If the two of you have children and there’s a dispute about custody and parenting time issues, it probably makes sense to participate in a process called Social Early Neutral Evaluation. It’s kind of a long way of describing a program that’s in place. It’s been in existence now for over a decade and it’s grown to become a statewide program. It’s grown so much because the settlement success rate in these processes are about 80% and so it’s a fantastic way for litigants to very early get together and try to work out their differences. Usually they do.
The process involves meeting with a pair of qualified, neutral evaluators. One male, one female, to avoid any perceived gender bias and we will sit down with them for a period of three or four hours and talk about the facts of your case, talk about your kids, let them get to know your kids through you. Also talk about your family history and talk about what life was like for the two of you while you were raising your children. They’ll also hear from you about what you’d like to see happen in terms of an ultimate outcome on the custody and parenting time issues.
Once these individuals have a chance to digest that information, they’ll take a break, and they will come back and give us an opinion about what they think the likely outcome is if there were to be a full-fledged custody study. Now their opinion is confidential. The court will never know what these evaluators have to say and it’s also nonbinding, meaning that these folks have absolutely no authority to tell you what you will or won’t do, but it does give you an opportunity to hear from two completely detached neutral experts and get a sense of what they see as the potential outcome in your case.
Once we’ve heard their recommendations, then we’ll engage in a more traditional mediation process and hopefully resolve the matter, and again, about 80% of the time that happens. And so it’s a process that we strongly encourage our clients to participate in.
If an agreement is reached, the evaluators will put together a memorandum that will outline the terms of the agreement, on a general basis, and then that agreement becomes binding on a full and final basis.