Family law is one of the most notoriously contentious areas of litigation. With such a deeply personal subject matter, it is no wonder that family law cases often involve an unfortunate level of acrimony. Fortunately, there has been a growing trend to settle cases before they reach a final hearing. In fact, the vast majority of family law cases settle before they reach trial. One tool to help settle these cases is called Social Early Neutral Evaluation, called “SENE” for short.
A SENE evaluation is a voluntary process designed to help parties to a family law casework toward a settlement as soon as possible. Typically, there are two SENE evaluators – one male and one female. Their job is to listen to the issues of the case and provide a neutral view of how the case may be resolved if it went to court. During the process, each party will have time to explain his or her position to the SENE evaluators. Each party will also be allowed a brief time to respond to the statements made by the other party. After the statements of both parties are complete, the evaluators will meet together and discuss the case. After meeting to discuss the issues and statements of the parties, the SENE evaluators will then tell the parties how they believe a case would be resolved if they went to a final hearing.
A SENE evaluation is a neutral process, like other forms of alternative dispute resolution. This means that neither party can call the SENE evaluators as witnesses at trial, even if a settlement is not reached. In addition, whatever evaluations or recommendations are made by the SENE evaluators are not admissible in court. The reasoning behind not allowing these issues as evidence at trial is to encourage both parties to freely communicate during the process.
The primary advantage of the SENE process is that if the parties are able to reach a settlement early on, they can save time and money. A settlement through this process means the parties can complete their divorce at the beginning of the case instead of spending money in attorney fees to work through the divorce case in the traditional way.