Mediation is a confidential process in which two parties meet with a trained mediator to discuss issues between them, gather relevant information, and with that information, address those issues with workable solutions. In a divorce or child custody matter, parties can meet in mediation at all stages of the process, before going to court, after filing a case with the court, or even after the judge has made one or more decisions.
Early Neutral Evaluation
An early neutral evaluation (social or financial) is a three to four hour meeting designed to provide a forum for both parties to give their side of the story (similar to what they might argue in court) and to have a neutral evaluator give their opinion about what a judge might decide in their case. The purpose of the early neutral evaluation is to give parties an idea of what may happen if they bring their case to trial. An early neutral evaluation is not a substitute for a full custody evaluation or for hiring a financial expert because it is not as in depth and does not usually involve the review of documentation or discussions with third parties. Instead, it is an opportunity to see what it might look like to proceed with those services before the time and money is spent on them. More importantly, it is an opportunity to, after hearing the neutral’s opinion, try to settle the issues presented.
Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE)
An SENE is an evaluation of custody and parenting time issues and involves two evaluators.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE)
An FENE is an evaluation of financial issues such as division of assets and debts and spousal maintenance and usually involves one evaluator.
Unlike a parenting time expeditor, which is a neutral whose services are limited by Minnesota statute, a parenting consultant is essentially a neutral party whose role is as limited or as broad as you define it to be. Usually a parenting consultant’s role is to help resolve parenting disputes that aren’t defined well by the divorce or custody decree. In addition, as children age or parties’ situations change, a parenting consultant can help navigate those changing scenarios without requiring the parties to return to court. A parenting consultant is hired by both parties to make decisions on various child related issues.
Very often, parties who are divorcing have problems communicating with one another effectively. Unfortunately, if you have children, you will be required to communicate with one another on the business of raising children often. Many issues will invariably come up in the time between getting divorced and the emancipation of your children. If you have a high conflict relationship with your ex-spouse without the tools to communicate effectively with one another, you may find yourself back in court more often than you would like. Having a parenting consultant has many benefits. First, your parenting consultant will be able to get to know you and your family on a much more detailed basis than a judge. In fact, as judges rotate in and out of family court, you may find yourself telling your story to a brand new judge each time you are back in court. A judge can’t possibly understand all the details of your situation as well as a parenting consultant. Second, if you litigated your divorce in court, you are familiar with the costs of going to court. Returning to court after a high conflict divorce is not going to be any less expensive. The costs of having a parenting consultant resolve ongoing disputes is going to be less expensive overall.
A parenting consultant is paid by the hour and at the beginning of their relationship with two parties, each party pays a retainer.
A custody evaluation is a process in which a neutral evaluates both parties as parents and makes recommendations regarding custody, parenting time, and other issues related to the parties’ children. It is an in depth process, usually court ordered, where the evaluator interviews both parties, any third parties with information related to the children (day care providers, family members, mental health treatment providers, etc.), completes background checks, and reviews any documentation related to the issues.
The entire custody evaluation process often takes several months. At the end of the process, the evaluator will create a report that gives recommendations based on statutory best interest factors. The recommendations are not binding on the parties, but often are influential in a final hearing or trial if it becomes necessary. Because our mediation center has a goal of reducing the social and emotional cost of litigation on families, we do not handle custody evaluations where we are hired by only one party.
Mediation Costs (subject to income and asset verification)
Sliding-fee scale mediation – per person
- Over $55,000 per year, $100 per hour
- Over $35,000 per year and under $55,000 per year, $75 per hour
- Under $35,000 per year, $50 per hour
Sliding-fee scale custody evaluations – combined income of both parties
- Over $75,000 per year, $4,000
- Over $50,000 per year and under $75,000 per year, $3,000
- Under $50,000 per year, $2,000
Expert witness fees are $200 per hour.