The vast majority of divorce and custody cases settle before the final hearing. Settling out of court can be very beneficial for both the parties. Coming to a settlement allows the parties to maintain control of their own case and come up with custom solutions for their family. It can also help save money, as coming to an agreement means that the parties will not have to pay their respective attorneys to prepare for and attend a lengthy final hearing. There are several different methods to achieve a settlement. One method frequently used in Minnesota to help parties come to an agreement in their custody dispute is called an Early Neutral Evaluation.
During an Early Neutral Evaluation, both parents and their attorneys will attend. Two court-appointed evaluators will listen to both parents tell their “side of the story,” including what each of them believe to be the issues in the case and the barriers to settlement. The evaluators may ask questions of the parties during this time to make sure that they have a firm understanding of the case and family’s needs. After discussing the case with the parents and their attorneys, the evaluators will privately discuss the case with each other. The parents, their attorneys, and the evaluators will then reconvene, at which time the evaluators will express their opinion on the likely outcome if the case were to go to trial. The opinion of the evaluators is not binding on the parties in any way, meaning the parties are free to disregard their opinion and come to a completely different settlement or no settlement at all. Moreover, the evaluators’ opinions will never be reported to the trial judge. After the evaluators provide their opinion, the parties will then negotiate, using the evaluators’ opinions as a guidepost.
Early Neutral Evaluation is mainly different from the process of mediation in that the evaluators provide an opinion to the parties of what a trial judge is likely to do. Mediation is not designed to provide this sort of feedback to the litigants. These evaluations can be very useful, as they provide both parties with the opportunity to voice concerns and opinions while also providing them with an opinion of neutral third parties as to what a judge is likely to do. Hearing an unbiased opinion about the likely outcome of a trial can help parties to find neutral ground.
We have helped many clients with reaching solutions for their custody disputes. Call us today to set up an appointment to talk about your options and your family.