Mediation is a voluntary process which involves the parties meeting with a neutral third party (the mediator), whose goal is to help facilitate an agreement between the parties. It is the most common method of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) used in family law matters. In this confidential process, the parties meet with a neutral mediator (either with or without their attorneys present), and work toward finding an agreement on some, if not all of the disputed issues in their case. The mediator’s role is to help facilitate an agreement or settlement, and not to make decisions or to provide legal advice.
Mediation allows the parties to: (1) maintain control of the outcome of their dispute; (2) save time and money which would otherwise be spent on the legal process; (3) reduce stress and the conflict which litigation creates in families; and (4) reduce the amount of post-decree litigation when compared to court-imposed decisions following contested proceedings.
Types of Mediation
Mediated Settlement Conference: This is a form of mediation in which the parties meet with a neutral mediator, and work toward finding an agreement on the disputed issues in their case. The mediator’s role is to help facilitate an agreement or settlement, and not to make decisions or give legal advice. Mediated settlement conferences are most frequently scheduled right at the courthouse so that if an agreement is reached, the agreement can be placed “on the record” and approved of by the judicial officer assigned to the case.
Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE): This is a voluntary, confidential process designed to help families reach resolution of custody and parenting time issues, and usually occurs within a short period of time after the initial filing of the court proceeding. A SENE is most frequently performed by a two-person team (usually a man and a woman to offset any concerns of gender bias), who then will confer with one another and offer their evaluative impressions of the dispute, and work with the parents to help them resolve their differences. SENE can involve the gathering of limited collateral data, the use of other experts, or interviews with the children, if the facts of the case call for such techniques. A SENE is sometimes also referred to as a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation (or CPENE).
Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE): This is a voluntary, confidential process designed to help families with financial disputes who would be helped by the informed recommendations of an experienced evaluator. The evaluators are usually experienced lawyers and accountants who have received special training in the FENE process. The process is centered on saving resources and avoiding litigation by presenting each parties’ positions to an experienced neutral who will then share his or her view of the issues with the parties and their lawyers before helping to facilitate an agreement or settlement. The FENE is a confidential process and the positions of the parties and the opinions of the evaluator which are expressed at the FENE are not allowed to be presented or used in anyway in court, should an agreement not be reached. In most Minnesota district courts, the parties choose their evaluator from a roster maintained by the court.