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Early Neutral Evaluation Program (ENE)

Early Neutral Evaluation Program (ENE)

History of Program

The Third Judicial District has been working on a process to assist not only the courts but more importantly the families going through this difficult process. This project is consistent with plans by the Minnesota Court system to assist parties in the family court system. Priorities & Strategies for Minnesota's Judicial Branch sets forth three long-term, enduring goals for the court system:  (1) Access to Justice; (2) Administering Justice for Effective Results; and (3) Public Trust, Accountability and Impartiality.

In recent years, new strategies have been tested and have shown promise in achieving more effective outcomes for court participants who continually come back into the justice system because underlying substance abuse, mental health, or other psychosocial problems have not been addressed.  These approaches stress a collaborative, multidisciplinary problem solving approach for addressing the underlying problems as well as the legal issues that bring these individuals into court in the first place.

Judicial approaches that target the early resolution of cases involving families and children are more likely to produce effective case outcomes and a strategic focus for the judicial branch.

Family Early Case Management (ECM) is an emerging model for processing marital dissolution cases more effectively and efficiently, especially in cases involving disputed issues such as custody and parenting time.  It involves mroe actice and aggressive judicial management early in the case to help facilitate early settlement of disputed issues. The early intervention includes an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC), facilitated by the judge.

An additional component of this model is the use of Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) to settle disputed issues early in the dissolution case, as an alternative to the expensive and time-consuming process of conducting custody evaluations.  ENE is a short-term, confidential, evaluative process using a male and female team of experienced custody evaluators to facilitate prompt dispute resolution in custody and parenting time matters.

The benefits of using these approaches in family cases involving children are significant and include:

  • reduced cost and acrimony among the parties
  • earlier resolution and certainty for the children
  • increased settlement rates
  • reduced time from filing to judgment
  • fewer number of appeals and post judgment motions to modify decrees
  • reduced need for full custody evaluations and custody trials