Oftentimes early intervention is key to resolving disputes before parties become entrenched emotionally and drained financially. Dan and Traci have been serving as evaluators in the Early Neutral Evaluation ("ENE") process since 2008. The ENE program was established by the courts as a form of Early Case Management to provide an opportunity for parties to narrow or resolve custody, parenting time and financial disputes at the beginning of a case. It has proven to have successfully reduced the financial and emotional toll on families. The two programs offered for early intervention are Social Neutral Evaluation ("SENE") and Financial Early Neutral Evaluation ("FENE"). Benefits of the ENE program include receiving a knowledgeable and neutral opinion of the legal situation based on input from both parties, as well as cases being resolved quickly and fairly. The program saves time, money, and emotional expense for the parties and their children.
The SENE program is evaluative and confidential. It is made up of a male and female team, oftentimes one attorney and one mental health professional, but sometimes two attorneys depending on the situation. The process involves receiving input from both parents who tell their story to the evaluators, while outlining what they propose for custodial and parenting time arrangements. The evaluators confer privately and make confidential, non-binding recommendations to the parties. Once those recommendations are made, the parties move into a mediation stance, negotiating together to see if agreement can be reached based upon the recommendations given. Resolution can be reached during or after the session. The SENE is ideal for parties who value input from experienced professionals who outline how best to resolve a case in a manner that focuses on the best interests of children and takes into consideration the wishes and circumstances of both parents. Keeping resolution of the child-related matters between the parties, rather than leaving it up to the court, is often best for the family as a whole.
The FENE focuses on financial issues only and utilizes only one evaluator. Common issues addressed in the FENE include spousal maintenance, child support, division of debts, assets and non-marital property. Prior to the FENE, a short phone conference is often scheduled with the evaluator to identify issues and determine what information the parties should exchange prior to the FENE and what information should be submitted to the evaluator prior to the FENE. It may be that appraisals or other professional services are necessary prior to the session to make it most useful. The FENE is typically scheduled for 3-4 hours and, depending on the number and complexity of issues, may require more than one session.