Early Neutral Evaluation: What you need to Know


What is Early Neutral Evaluation in the Family Law Context?

Early Neutral Evaluation, or ENE as it’s commonly called, is a relatively new concept in MN family law.

Early Neutral Evaluation is a forum in which the parties and their attorneys present the key issues of their dispute to a neutral evaluator in the presence of the parties.  ENE occurs after the case is filed in court but before formal discovery of evidence.  The selected Neutral or Neutrals give an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses in each side’s case before proceeding in family court. 


The use of ENE in family court cases falls under the amendment to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes established in Rule 114 for all civil cases.

Under the new provisions of the rule, all family law matters in district court are subject to the ADR.  Family court judges normally refer cases to ENE or, as it is known in some counties, Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE).  There are a few exceptions to the requirement for ENE in family court, and they include:

  • Domestic abuse cases

  • Contempt cases

  • Maintenance, child support, and parentage cases where the public agency responsible for enforcement is a party or is providing services to a party in the case.

Further, courts may not require parties to participate in ENE or other ADR processes where:

One of the parties claims to be the victim of domestic abuse by the other party; or

If the court believes there is a probability that one of the parties or a child of the parties has been physically abused or threatened with physical abuse by the other party.

What does this mean for me?

The idea behind the ENE is to allow the parties a face-to-face opportunity to discuss the core of their dispute with a qualified neutral.  Both sides choose the neutral/s from a court approved list.  The neutral/s will listen to both sides equally, take some time to analyze the issues and give an opinion of the best way to move ahead for both sides.  If the parties accept the recommendation of the neutral/s, any agreement is put into writing and forwarded to the judge in the case.  Often it may take more than one session with a neutral/s for the parties to reach accord on their key disagreements.

Who pays for the ENE?

Both sides are equally responsible for the costs of the ENE and typically pay the same as the attorneys’ hourly rates or by a sliding scale set by the state.

Can the process help me?

ENE is a very effective method of resolving some of the critical disputes that often endanger a smooth dissolution process.  Attorney Obi Chukwu has helped several clients successfully through the ENE process and achieved desirable results.  He has also helped clients make the best use of the process to get positive results even in the most acrimonious situations.  Attorney Chukwu has the experience and knowledge it takes to understand what ENE means for you and how it can affect your divorce case.  In one situation, opposing counsel tried to use the process to delay temporary custody for Mr. Chukwu’s client.  Mr. Chukwu effectively brought to light the factual and legal analysis that showed his client deserved custody during ENE, which led to a recommendation of custody for his client.

If you have questions about Early Neutral Evaluation, ADR or any other issues in this article, contact an experienced family law attorney.  Consult a family lawyer to determine what process is relevant to your particular case or situation or for any of the issues raised in this article.

Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for an individual case or situation.  The information is intended to be general and should not be relied upon for any specific situation.  For legal advice, consult an attorney experienced in family law.

About Obi Chukwu

Paschal Nwokocha Law Offices, LLC, is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and specializes in immigration and family law. It is one of the preeminent, immigrant-focused law firms in the country with a particular emphasis on solutions for families. Attorney Chukwu has extensive experience in family law matters uses those skills to help clients with family law issues, including divorce/dissolutions, child custody, and parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance (alimony), paternity, ante-nuptial/post-nuptial agreements, asset distribution, post-divorce modifications, domestic abuse issues, OFPs etc. Attorney Chukwu believes that family is at the core of our communities. In that respect his practice of family law emphasizes respect for the family, protection for children and fair & balanced treatment of individuals. Without sacrificing zealous client advocacy Mr. Chukwu strive to find solutions that benefit clients from the start with limited expense. We are a community of immigrants and are stronger because of it. Paschal Nwokocha Law Offices believes our immigration laws should work for us not against us and endeavors to find ways to make immigration laws most effective for our clients.

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