Intervention program saves time, money in child custody disputes

Fighting a long, contentious divorce or child custody battle with a former spouse can amount to a frustrating effort. Like many of these cases that we see in Minneapolis, spouses can become emotionally charged during this difficult phase of their lives. Due to these emotions, they hurl accusations at the other side and drag proceedings over property division and child custody issues on longer than necessary. In the end, this only costs spouses and any children involved, time, money and emotional strife.

This is precisely why Minnesota's district courts have introduced a program called Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE), which is intended to move divorce and child custody battles along, not allowing them to stall out as both sides argue about irrelevant matter.

Proponents of the Early Neutral Evaluation, which is a confidential case management program, say spouses don't expend nearly the amount of time and money on their cases as they might have otherwise, and children aren't caught in the middle between a barrage of insults and accusations. There are two types of Early Neutral Evaluation sessions. One is geared toward parenting and custody arrangements. The other centers on financial matters tied to divorce.

Through this program, spouses appear in front of judge at what is called an initial case management conference. It is here where the judge attempts to resolve initial issues on a temporary basis, such as child custody, support and visitation. In the process, the spouses explore the option of setting up an ENE session.

The custody and parenting ENE session involves working with a non-biased, male and female team with family court experience. The pair y meets with the spouses and their attorneys, listening to their arguments and answering questions. The panel then confers together and informs the spouses about what they think the outcome would be if their case goes to court. This can lead to striking an agreement between the two sides based on that information.

Court officials say the settlement rate through Early Neutral Evaluation has been 60 to 80 percent, with many Minnesota residents bypassing the family court system, saving time and money, and hammering out their divorces or child custody battles in a civil manner.

Source: Alexandria Echo Press, "From the Bench - Reducing family court pain and expense," Judge Frank Kundrat, Sept. 7, 2012

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