What is Early Neutral Evaluation?
EARLY NEUTRAL EVALUATION (ENE) is another new type of dispute resolution intervention that is very cost effective for spouses who want to terminate their marriage, and do not fall into the class of high conflict, domestic violence or severe personality disorders.
My experience has been that a lot of couples who may want to terminate their marriage (without going to war in a divorce court) do not have any idea what is REASONABLE AND APPROPRIATE, or what options they may consider as alternatives to subjecting their children and financial resources to the negative impact of the adversarial divorce process. They may need some basic education on the procedures involved in each process option, as well as some general education regarding marital and separate property, child and/or spousal support and the subjects included in shared parenting plans, In addition, they may want an experienced Family Lawyer, who acts as a neutral, to give them NON-BINDING/ADVISORY suggestions or evaluative opinions regarding those various options and subjects for their consideration.
Unlike CFL and Collaborative Divorce Mediation, the primary goal of ENE is not necessarily the achievement of a settlement – it is education of the parties. An attorney who provides ENE services needs to have extensive knowledge of Family Law and many years of litigation experience in domestic relations cases. The parties retain this type of attorney to act as a neutral to provide them with an early and realistic evaluation of the merits of their respective positions, and to suggest any reasonable alternative solutions they might consider. In addition the ENE evaluator may assist the parties with the collection and exchange of necessary disclosures and discovery. However, the evaluator does not give either party specific, personal advice on what may be in his or her best interest, and does not draft any pleadings or other legal documents for the parties.
After the ENE education process is finished, the evaluator recommends to the parties that they return to their attorneys, if they already have them in place, or move into Collaborative Family Law or Collaborative Divorce Mediation to negotiate the final terms of their separation agreement and parenting plan, if they are not represented yet. The main benefits of ENE are that the parties have saved a significant amount of money that otherwise would be spent on education and formal discovery during a litigated case, and they have had a “reality check” in the form of a non-binding evaluation of their circumstances by an experienced family lawyer. Then, they are better equipped to make enlightened decisions during the next phase of negotiations through COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE MEDIATION or their COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAWYERS..
Anything the parties do or say during ENE meetings is confidential to the extent that their communications and actions are treated as being involved in the negotiation of a settlement, so they cannot be used against either party in any subsequent court hearing, if the parties fail to reach agreement on all relevant issues, and judicial intervention becomes necessary to complete the case.