Alphabet Soup - SENE, FENE and ADR

One of my favorite all time judges (who sadly isn't on the family law rotation anymore) used to call his courtroom an "acronym free zone".  It is so easy for attorneys and judges who handle divorce and custody cases every day to start saying things like "At the ICMC the parties have opted in to a SENE and FENE for their ADR" - which make perfect sense to the professionals in the room, but may leave the people that matter, the ones going through the divorce, scratching their heads.  For the record, here is what we are talking about:

ICMC - Initial Case Management Conference.  See previous blog post.

ADR - Alternative Dispute Resolution.  This is a process that parties are (almost always) required to use to try to figure out their disputes without coming in to court and presenting evidence, objections, witnesses, and all the stuff you see on TV dramas.  There are many different ADR processes, such as mediation, arbitration, and the two most popular...

SENE - Social Early Neutral Evaluation.  At SENE, each party (with their attorney if they have one) sits in a conference room with two "neutral evaluators", typically one male and one female.  These professional neutrals are trained and approved by the court, and are usually attorneys or have a therapeutic background.  In a nutshell, each party tells the story of their life, relationship with their ex and their children, and then the evaluators do their job and give their opinion as to what might be a reasonable custody and parenting time resolution.  Using this opinion, the parties negotiate and see if they can reach an agreement.

FENE - Financial Early Neutral Evaluation.  Similar to the SENE, but with only one evaluator, and dealing with financial issues instead of custody.  Typical topics include division of financial assets, child support, spousal maintenance, non-marital claims, and business division.  This session is more document intensive than the other, and typically a spreadsheet is created (a "balance sheet") that lists what the couple owns, and owes, and how to fairly divide it all up.

The most important part of the ENE is not what happens at the meeting, but the preparation that takes place beforehand.  Picking the right evaluators for your case, gathering the right documents, knowing what to say and what not to talk about - these are all things that your attorney should work with you to have ready to go by the time you get to the big day.  If you have any questions about ADR or any other step in the divorce or custody process, feel free to give us a call or email any time and we'd be happy to set up a free consult to go over your specific situation.

Zach Smith