Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) is a new Family Court program that provides parents and their legal counsel with a short-term, confidential, evaluative process designed to facilitate timely resolution of Family Court custody and parenting time matters. The program offers the evaluative impressions of experienced Family Court Services staff to parents engaged in custody and parenting time disputes as they make decisions together with the advice of their legal counsel. A Family Court Services team of a female and a male mediator gives immediate, issue-by-issue feedback to parties and their attorneys based on case presentations and a limited amount of information gathering. The ENE process is generally completed within one month, and 75% of divorcing couples who participate in this program avoid a court trial and save thousands of dollars in attorney fees. Most importantly, divorcing couples develop and preserve co-parenting skills that allow them to avoid future court costs and the stresses that such conflicts impose on their children.

The Early Neutral Evaluation option depends upon the assessment of the district court judge hearing your dissolution petition. The process begins with your judge in an Initial Case Management Conference. Based on your conduct in this meeting, the judge may refer you and your attorneys to Family Court Services for an ENE if your case is deemed appropriate for this program. Parents and their attorneys usually meet with the ENE team within one week, and they present the important issues in the case. Unless it is necessary to gather additional information, the ENE team begins to provide immediate feedback about each party’s position and requests for custody and parenting time relevant to
Minnesota best interest statutes. The ENE team discusses settlement options and identifies any areas needing further scrutiny for unresolved issues. The ENE team may gather additional information as necessary, and the ENE team may privately interview the parents, children, or gather limited collateral data.

The parents and their attorneys may meet additional times with the ENE team to hear the team’s assessment and recommendations for unresolved issues, when all present discuss settlement options for full and partial agreements. If the case does not settle, the team identifies critical issues that may need additional study.

When parents reach a partial or complete agreement, a copy of the agreement is sent to the judge. If the parties do not reach a full agreement, the ENE team submits either a written or oral report to the judge regarding partial agreements. In full and partial settlements, the ENE team may communicate with the judge for the limited purpose of facilitating case management.

If the case does not settle, the judge consults with the parties and their attorneys to decide the next step, which may be
mediation, an expedited evaluation of the remaining issues, or a full custody evaluation. Early Neutral Evaluation follows a standard ENE fee schedule used by most Minnesota counties.

Northwest Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services staff are fully trained neutrals
as defined under Minnesota General Rules of Practice Rule 114,
and proud members of the

NWM&CES is a member of the AFCC