Early Neutral Evaluation. A process in which participants or attorneys present the core of the dispute to a neutral evaluator. This occurs after the case is filed but before the parties engage in discovery (the formal process of gathering information which may include written interrogatories, document production and depositions). The neutral then gives a candid assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the case. That neutral, evaluative opinion is the key distinction between mediation and ENE. ENE is a prompt and effective process option for cases involving participants who are eager to conserve resources, bargain in good-faith, and adjust their expectations based upon the seasoned evaluative perspective provided by the neutral.
When ENE is utilized to resolve issues involving custody and parenting time it is known as Social ENE (“SENE”). When ENE is utilized to resolve financial issues, such as child support, spousal maintenance, and marital estate issues, it is known as Financial ENE (“FENE”). ENE is usually offered to participants by the judge of record during the first hearing in a family law case. When the court implements ENE as a process option as part of an Early Case Management/ENE case management model, the settlement rate has consistently exceeded 70% throughout all of Minnesota’s Judicial Districts. See ECM/ENE Initiative (Early Case Management/Early Neutral Evaluation Pilot) - Final Report to the State Justice Institute, Grant No. SJI-07-N-012 , October 15, 2010.
Late Neutral Evaluation. A process akin to Early Neutral Evaluation in many respects, but utilized after the parties have progressed into contested litigation. Generally, parties become more entrenched in their perspectives the longer they engage in traditional litigation. The gravitas of the evaluator is instrumental in assisting the parties to consider the case from a neutral perspective. A Late Neutral Evaluation often can be useful after discovery has been completed so that the neutral may provide detailed evaluative opinions about nuances in the relative strengths and weaknesses of claims to be presented for trial.
Neutral Fact-Finding. A process in which a dispute, frequently one involving complex or technical issues, is investigated and analyzed by an agreed-upon neutral who issues findings and a non-binding report or recommendation.