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Minnesota’s Financial Early Neutral Evaluation
Understanding the alternative dispute resolution format of an FENE can be critical to the outcome of any case where financial issues are in dispute.
What is a Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE)?
An FENE is a relatively recent addition (in many Minnesota counties), to the pantheon of divorce hearings that have now become regular in our family court system. It is a voluntary process. The goal is often to seek resolution and spare much of the length and expense of protracted proceedings. The FENE is similar to mediation in that it is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is voluntary and non-binding. That biggest difference is that in mediation, the mediator will try to have the parties reach a resolution, often by playing the devil's advocate, but the mediator will never take a position. In an FENE, a rather quick evaluation is done based on limited facts and arguments of the parties. The goal is to come to a conclusion and a recommendation regarding financial issues. This means that presenting the relevant facts of your case in a compelling way early on and with limited discovery, is important.
What is the Process of an Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE)?
The FENE process generally involves an accountant, but, in some cases, may use an experienced family law attorney as an evaluator.. The first meeting (particularly in Hennepin County) often occurs within seven days of the Order for n FENE. At the first meeting, the Parties and their attorneys meet with the evaluator and each party presents their information regarding assets, debts, income and monthly expenses. Having this documentation can be critical to effectively mediating and resolving the issues. The first meeting is generally scheduled for three (3) hours. The evaluator will listen, ask questions, and gather all the information they need to fully understand the case. Often, at the close of the first meeting, the evaluator will make a 'to do" list of information that must be acquired to continue. A new meeting date will be set. After the information is gathered, the evaluator will again meet with the parties to discuss the case and share their opinion with the parties and their attorneys. Both parties have an opportunity to ask questions and get clarification on the evaluator's recommendations. From there, the parties and their attorneys can work with the evaluators to try to reach agreement on some or all issues. It is important to note that the early neutral evaluation process must often be completed within sixty (60) days. Within that 60 day period, you will either reach a settlement or inform the Court that no agreement has been reached.
What happens if a resolution is reached?
If an agreement is reached, the attorneys will cooperate with the evaluator and the Court to draft the necessary documents to make sure that the agreement is enforced.
What happens if a resolution is not reached?
If the early neutral evaluation process is unsuccessful, then the matter will be returned to the Judge assigned to your case, who will set a discovery timeline and schedule the matter for pretrial and trial.
When custody is in dispute, a Minnesota court issues a custody order that is in the "best interests of the child." Joint custody will only be awarded if parents have shown the court that they are willing and able to cooperate. A court also examines several factors with the child's welfare in mind. They include (1) the child's preference, (2) each parent's health, (3) the child's health and whether any special needs exist, (4) each parent's relationship with the child, (5) which parent has been the child's primary caretaker, (6) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment for the child, (7) any history of domestic violence or child abuse and (8) any allegations of abuse.
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