What is an Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)?
Early neutral evaluation (ENE) is a confidential alternative dispute resolution process designed for faster settlement of family court cases. There are two separate ENE processes; one for parties to address issues related to custody and parenting time (often referred to as a social early neutral evaluation (SENE) or custody and parenting time early neutral evaluation (CPENE)) and the other to address financial issues related to property division, spousal maintenance and/or child support (often referred to as a financial early neutral evaluation (FENE)). Both the SENE/CPENE and FENE process are completely confidential. Anything that is said by the evaluators during the ENE process is not reported back to the Judge. In the event a settlement is not reached during the ENE process, the evaluators may only report to the Judge that there has not been an agreement reached and they are prohibited from providing the Judge with any details regarding the session*.
Social/Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation. SENE/CPENE is a process for divorcing parents or never-married parents who are involved in a court cases dealing with issues related to custody or parenting time (visitation) for their minor children. The goal of the SENE process is help families navigate through the court process as quickly and fairly as possible before the parties become entrenched in time consuming and costly litigation. In most cases, within the first two months of filing a case, the parties may elect to participate in the SENE process. They will select or be appointed one male and one female SENE evaluator. The parties (and their attorneys) will attend a session which is typically scheduled for three to four hours in which they will each tell the evaluators the relevant points about their relationship with their child(ren) and their wishes relative to custody and parenting time. After asking follow-up questions, the SENE evaluators will consult and make recommendations regarding options for resolution of the custody and parenting issues. They will inform the parties of what they believe a Judge might order in the event the case is fully litigated. In the end, the parties will work with the evaluators and their attorneys to negotiate a resolution of all or some of the issues in their case. In the event a resolution cannot be reached, the evaluators will inform the Judge that there has been an impasse and the case will proceed to litigation.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluation. FENE is a process available for divorcing couples who are involved in court cases dealing with financial issues. The FENE process can be used both by couples with children who have child support related issues and by couples without minor children who have issues related to division of assets and debts or a claim for spousal maintenance. As with the SENE process, within the first few months of filing a case, the parties may elect to participate in the FENE process. They will select a FENE evaluator who may be an experienced family law attorney or an experienced accountant or other financial expert with vast experience in family court. The parties and their attorneys will be asked to identify for the FENE evaluator what issues they need assistance in resolving. Once they have done so, the FENE evaluator will schedule a session and will request that both parties provide him/her with necessary financial information in advance of the session. Prior to the session the evaluator will review the provided financial information and will prepare the appropriate spreadsheets and schedules. When the parties and their attorneys attend the session, the evaluator will review and discuss the schedules and spreadsheets and ask follow-up questions. The evaluator will make recommendations including options for resolving all or some of the outstanding financial issues. The evaluator will also inform the parties of what they believe a Judge might order in the event the case is fully litigated. In the end, the evaluator will work the parties and their attorneys to facilitate a resolution to all or some of the financial issues in the case. In the event a full resolution cannot be reached, the evaluators will inform the Judge that there has been an impasses and the case will proceed to litigation.
* The SENE/CPENE evaluators are typically mandatory reporters; despite the confidentiality of the ENE process, the evaluators are compelled to report to the proper authorities any instances where they believe a party may be an immediate harm to themselves, the minor child(ren) or others.
This website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this website should be taken as legal advice for any specific circumstance. As laws vary from state to state, some information on this website may not be correct for your jurisdiction and cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your state.