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Using early neutral evaluation to resolve divorce legal issues

Early neutral evaluation is an alternative dispute resolution process followed in Minnesota that is used to resolve divorce legal issues. This is a high-quality, confidential, prompt, affordable and voluntary process that is focused on reaching a satisfactory settlement for the parties. Unmarried parents, parents who are filing for divorce or custody and parents who already have a custody decree, but now have a dispute, can participate in this process.

Early neutral evaluation includes social ENE and financial ENE; this process can be scheduled within anywhere from seven to 14 days following the date of the Initial Case Management Conference, as set by the court. The Fifth Judicial District Early Neutral Evaluation Coordinator can be contacted at the ENE for scheduling purposes.

In order to conduct the SENE, which resolves matters related to child custody and parenting time, one male and one female member is required to participate. One of these participants should be a child specialist, while the other should be an attorney. Each participant should be neutral and should have completed ENE training. On the other hand, in order to conduct FENE, which addresses financial and marital property division issues, an accountant or attorney who has at least five years' experience in custody and divorce matters is required. The neutral participants should have completed the required training and also engaged in two observations of the process.

While a SENE session, depending on the issues involved, can last from three to five hours, with more than one session sometimes being required, FENE sessions are shorter, but also can be held more than once. The fees for SENE are $300 per session and should be paid before the session. The fees for FENE depend on the gross annual family income.

Since ENE sessions allows the parents to reach a settlement rather than having the court decide the matters. This process gives the parents most control over their issues and, since they know the issues best, the parties tend to reach solutions that are well thought-out. Also, it takes less time to arrive at a solution by using this method; hence, the parties, their children and other family members can adapt to the changes more quickly and move forward. This process also enables parties, who can resolve the legal issues involved in the divorce early on, to save both time and costs.

Source: Minnesota Judicial Branch, "Early Neutral Evaluation," accessed Nov. 28, 2014

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