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Minnesota’s Social Early Neutral Evaluation

The SENE in Minnesota is a form of Alternative Dispute resolution for custody and parenting time issues. Understanding the process is an important part of success.

What is a Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE)?

An SENE 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. The SENE 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 SENE, 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 custody and parenting tine that would likely be the result after a full blown custody evaluation, allowing the parties to save the time and expenses of such an evaluation. 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?

The SENE process generally involves two evaluators, one male and one female. Parties and their attorneys meet with the evaluators and each party "tells their story." The first meeting is generally scheduled for three (3) hours. The evaluators listen, ask questions, and gather all the information they need to fully understand the case. After the information is gathered, the evaluators meet together to discuss the case and arrive at a consensus on how they believe the social issues would likely be resolved by a court. The participants then meet together again and the evaluators 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.

Is it Effective?

The statistics that I have seen quoted indicate that an SENE results in a settlement 70% of the time.

What happens if the parties reach an agreement?

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 the Case does not Settle?

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.

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Minnesota courts look at many factors in deciding spousal support amounts. A spouse may be entitled to maintenance if he or she cannot support himself or herself despite any marital property received after distribution. Financial resources, employment, education and the personal circumstances of each spouse are considered. A court examines several factors to determine if maintenance is appropriate, and if so, how much and for how long. They include (1) the duration of the marriage, (2) the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, (3) each spouse's age and health, (4) each spouse's assets, income or ability to earn income, (5) the time needed for the requesting spouse to receive training or education and obtain sufficient employment in order to support himself or herself and (6) the owing spouse's ability to pay. A court can order temporary support while the divorce is pending. Most maintenance is ordered for a specific length of time. Once maintenance is ordered, it can be modified upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances.
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