The family law attorneys at Dudley and Smith, P.A. have taken mediation training and have participated in all of the below listed types of alternative dispute resolution to move their cases through to resolution. In almost every instance, the parties to a divorce or custody case are required to submit their case to some form of ADR before bringing their issues to court. There are many types of ADR delineated in the General Rules of Practice, Rule 114, but family law professionals tend to gravitate towards the early neutral evaluation processes or mediation.
Family law cases are often complex and parties are strongly tied to their belief in the strength of their case. The Court has developed a process for early neutral evaluation, including Social Early Neutral Evaluations and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations so that parties can gain valuable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of their case before spending a lot of time and resources on litigation. It is stated that about 70% of cases going through the SENE and FENE processes are successfully settled.
Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE) are used to deal with the social issues in a dissolution or custody case. One or two evaluators are appointed, usually a therapist and an attorney team. You then have a chance to calmly lay out and discuss custody and/or parenting time issues. Both parties are present with their attorneys and get to listen to the other side discuss what their desires are for custody and parenting time and why they believe it is in the best interest of their children. After each side presents their case, the evaluators can ask questions and do any follow-up information gathering so that they feel confident in their ability to give feedback. Everyone usually takes a break at this point and the evaluators meet to discuss their opinions of the case. It is helpful for your attorney to know who the evaluators are and their experiences with family court, as the opinions they offer are valuable. After a short time, the evaluators come back into the room with everyone and offer their recommendation for custody and parenting time. At that point, the parties can either agree or disagree or come up with a hybrid version of what they want versus what the recommendation may be. This process is completely confidential, meaning that all the evaluators can tell the Court is that you were or were not successful in settling your case at the SENE. Allison Fredrickson has experience with SENE evaluators all over the metro area and has successfully settled many of her cases at the SENE with help from the evaluators. She believes strongly in the power of sitting down in a neutral setting and getting all of the concerns and reasoning behind people’s positions out on the table. Being heard is very healing for families that are in the process of divorce. The SENE process is designed to save attorney’s fees and litigation time and expense.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE) are used to discuss the financial issues with a qualified neutral. The parties and their attorneys select one neutral from a roster, usually someone that is an accountant or a highly qualified family law attorney. Each party brings their asset spreadsheets and documentation to back up their positions on how the estate should be divided. Things like child support, spousal maintenance and asset division are discussed. Allison Fredrickson highly recommends signing off on any agreements that are reached at the FENE meeting so that parties are bound to those decisions. Again, this process is confidential and is non-binding unless there are agreements reached.
Mediation is a less formal process where the parties sit down with a qualified neutral party and can choose to mediate one single issue or several issues in their case. Mediators have very different approaches, from being very involved and offering opinions to just acting as a facilitator to get people to talk and promoting settlement. Sometimes it is helpful to just be in the same room and be forced to really hear where the other party is coming from. Since there are so many qualified neutrals, it is important to let your attorney at Dudley and Smith, P.A. offer their opinion on someone that might be good for your specific case.
The last commonly used form of ADR in a divorce or custody case is a Moderated Settlement Conference. This often is chosen towards the end of a case, when parties seem likely to go to trial. An experienced neutral presides over the conference and it is held at the courthouse so that the attorneys can put things onto the record and sometimes seek input from their judicial officer as to how an issue may be decided at trial.
Contact Allison Fredrickson (Allison Gonzalez) by email at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at 651-291-1717, or learn more about her practice approach at www.dudleyandsmith.com. Allison is well versed in all types of ADR and ready to discuss any of the above options for your divorce of custody case.