Helping Minnesota Families Through Difficult Times

Hennepin County Family Court: Initial Case Management Conference and Early neutral Evaluation

Parties to Hennepin County divorce and custody proceedings must appear before the judge assigned to their case as early as three to four weeks after the filing of the initial papers.

The first appearance in Hennepin County Family Court  is called an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC). Below is an article written by the Honorable Lucy Wieland, Chief Judge of the Fourth Judicial District.

Reducing the Pain of Divorce
Lucy Wieland, Chief Judge of Fourth Judicial District - February 13, 2007

Divorce is never easy. The pain and loss to family members are immeasurable Over the last three years, the HENNEPIN COUNTY FAMILY COURT has focused on reducing the trauma of divorce by undergoing a quiet but dramatic transformation in how divorces are handled. Today, families can go through Family Court quickly, economically, and with less acrimony by agreeing to use up to three innovative programs and by negotiating in good faith.

It starts with the Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC), which occurs about three weeks after the parties' DISSOLUTION or PATERNITY case has been filed. Here, the parties and their attorneys meet with their assigned judge in an informal setting, everyone speaks freely and an attempt is made to resolve as many issues as possible. To help resolve any remaining issues, the parties may select from a menu of specifically designed settlement programs.

If the parties need help resolving financial issues, such as spousal maintenance or dividing marital assets, they can choose the FINANCIAL ISSUE EARLY NEUTRAL EVALUATION (FENE) PROGRAM. A neutral expert compiles all the necessary financial information, listens carefully to the parties' respective positions, studies the material, offers candid assessments regarding the strengths and weaknesses of each issue and helps the parties negotiate a resolution. The expert’s fees are determined on a sliding scale basis at a fraction of the normal rate. To date, 70 percent of the cases have settled entirely, averaging 59 days to resolution, and costing less than $1,000 for neutral expert fees. While the parties may incur additional charges for their lawyers, overall they end up paying a fraction of the costs associated with traditional divorce litigation and the whole process is completed in less than three months.

Hennepin County also offers a SOCIAL ISSUE EARLY NEUTRAL EVALUATION (SENE) designed to resolve custody and parenting time issues. Because it is extremely important to keep children out of the middle of messy divorce proceedings, the SENE is designed to happen even faster than the FENE. Parents selecting the SENE process are matched with two custody experts, always one male and one female, who meet with the parties, listen carefully to their respective positions, gather any necessary additional information, consult with each other to determine whether they view the issues the same way, and then provide the parties with their candid assessments and negotiate a settlement, all within thirty days after the initial case management conference. So far, 60-65 percent of all SENE referrals result in total settlements, while another 20 percent result in partial settlements.

Families opting for the SENE program often save a college education worth of costs and expenses, minimize emotional harm to their children, and discover that they can co-parent in a civilized, respectful way despite their divorce Even when the entire case does not settle, partial settlements result in far less expensive proceedings, with less potential harm to the children.

Occasionally, parents return to court because one wants to modify the existing custody arrangements. The Ready Response Program directs the parents and child to a custody evaluator serving as the Ready Response officer of the day. The Ready Response officer meets with the parents and child on an emergency basis and reports back to the court and the parents on the same day.

For example, a mature teenage girl may be telling her mother that she wants to move in with her; and telling her father that she wants to remain living with him. Both parents come to court believing that they are following the child's wishes. Rather than go through long drawn out litigation to determine the child's true preference, the Ready Response Program may be utilized. The Ready Response officers are skilled interviewers and can help determine what the child really wants. It is often much easier for a child to be candid in a setting that does not require the child to say something in the presence of a parent that might hurt that parent's feelings. On many occasions the Ready Response interview provides enough valuable information that the parents are able to negotiate a resolution and avoid a protracted court battle.

For more information on these and other programs, visit FAMILY COURT on the web. (See Links.)

For a consultation with a Hennepin County divorce attorney, please contact attorney Chris Banas at 651-361-8109.  He has written numerous articles on information on Minnesota Divorce, Child Support & Spousal Maintenance, Custody & Parenting Time and More.  Learn more about Hennepin County Custody and Parenting Time and the Do's and Don'ts of Hennepin County Family Court Proceedings.

Categories: Family Law

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