Early Neutral Evaluation
Early Neutral Evaluation is a confidential alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process for divorces that began in Hennepin County more than 10 years ago and is gradually being accepted throughout Minnesota. At the initial case management conference (ICMC) with your judge he or she may recommend Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE). If the parents agree, the judge will issue a formal order for the ENE. There are two types of ENEs: social and financial. These evaluations are conducted either with or without personal attorneys present.
With a Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE), there is a team of evaluators: one male and one female. Glen Bickford was one of the first early neutral evaluators trained in greater Minnesota. In SENEs Glen usually pairs with a local attorney who is familiar with the county and its judges. Each parent explains his/her situation and what he/she wants as a divorce settlement with respect to custody and parenting time. The SENE attempts to serve almost as a brief custody and usually deals only with the issues presented by each parent.
The evaluators then assess the case of each and tells the couple what a judge is likely to rule in their case and why. The evaluators will offer a possible settlement solution. The parents then consider the suggestions. At this point there may be some discussion about what each parent agrees with or not and parties may agree to modify the evaluator’s solution. If an agreement is reached, the evaluators write up the settlement, it’s signed by each parent and submitted to the courts.
With a Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE) there is only one evaluator but the process works similarly with respect to spousal maintenance, child support and assets. Early Neutral Evaluations can save couples many thousands of dollars compared to divorce trials and they are usually less expensive than attorney settlements, especially if attorneys are not present at the ENEs.
If your county has a formal ENE program, the fees may be assessed by income level or may be the same as you pay your attorney (in the case of two evaluators ½ to each evaluator). Some Minnesota counties may not have formal ENE programs but your judge may agree to and order an ENE if suggested. In these cases, an hourly rate is assessed based on 4 hours. A few counties and judges are not familiar enough with ENEs to order them but will order mediation instead.
Glen Bickford has served as ENE evaluator since the ENE programs were introduced to Greater Minnesota in 2006. Since 2006, Glen has served as evaluator for hundreds of ENEs in more than a dozen Minnesota counties throughout greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities. He has multiple trainings in Early Neutral Evaluation, advanced Early Neutral Evaluation and in addition has observed many other evaluator teams in action.