Introducing Mediation’s Cousin – Early Neutral Evaluation in Divorce

Early neutral evaluation, like mediation, is focused on resolving divorce issues outside of court. Early neutral evaluation (ENE) is getting a lot of attention lately because it has been very successful in helping couples settle their divorce or separation cases early in the process, even if the conflict between them is high.

What is ENE?

ENE is a dispute-resolution process that is designed to help couples settle their divorce or separation early in the process, allowing parties to avoid the ongoing expense and pressure of litigation. During ENE, a couple can each share their side of the story and their feelings and frustrations. Then, they receive an expert assessment of their case, allowing them to make informed decisions about settlement.

How does ENE work?

A two-person ENE team usually consists of mental health professionals and/or lawyers, with specific expertise in working with divorcing and separating families. They listen to the issues that are causing the highest conflict between you, then offer feedback and suggestions for settlement based on your unique family situation. At that point, they move into a more traditional mediation role.

In your first meeting with the ENE team, each of you will provide information about your family, your break-up, your children, specific concerns and your desired outcome. If financial issues are involved, you will present those as well. The ENE team may ask to hear everything at once, or may deal with the parenting issues and the financial issues separately.

You will each have about 25 minutes to present your information. After you have both presented your initial information, you will each have another 10 minutes or so to respond to things the other person brought up. Part of the value of ENE is that during these presentations, each of you is talking directly to the ENE team instead of arguing with each other. After both of you have talked about what’s important to you, the ENE team will ask questions to help clarify information and positions, and will identify any areas where you are already in agreement.

After they’ve heard your information, the ENE team meets privately to evaluate the case and consider settlement suggestions for the parties. They may come back with a request for more information, or they may be ready to give their recommendations right away.

The joint meeting will then resume and the team will present its evaluative impressions and provide settlement options, including suggestions regarding decision-making and parenting time. The team might also suggest other services that would be helpful to the family such as counseling, parenting classes, drug or alcohol education or treatment, or communication classes.

After the ENE team has offered its feedback and settlement suggestions, there will be a break to give you time to think about the suggestions and discuss them with your attorney(s), if any. At this point the team will then move into a mediation role to help you work out the details of an agreement.

How does ENE differ from mediation?

Both mediation and early neutral evaluation help you settle your divorce early in the process. In mediation, the mediator helps you clarify the issues, maintain clear communication, achieve balance between you, and manage the process in a way that allows you to move forward. Your ENE team, on the other hand, will first give you very direct and specific recommendations and make suggestions for your settlement details, before moving into that mediation process.

The goal of both mediation and early neutral evaluation is to help you reach early settlement of your divorce or separation that satisfy both of you and benefit your children.