In recent years many courts throughout Minnesota have encouraged parties to use various forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to resolve their family law disputes. The Rule 114 Qualified Neutrals at Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O’Connell, PLLC provide a variety of ADR options, which are complimentary to those of the Courts in Ramsey County, Hennepin County, Washington County, Anoka County, and Dakota County, in order to encourage settlement, minimize expense, and prevent cases from going to trial. Staying out of court and away from the litigation process often reduces the financial and emotional cost of a divorce and can set a more positive tone for how the parties interact going forward. Some of the ADR services provided by Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O’Connell, PLLC are:
The mediator or neutral facilitates the discussion of settlement options with a goal of resolving the issues between the parties. Sometimes the parties’ attorneys are present. Mediation is generally a voluntary process (unless ordered by a judge). A mediator is not a decision maker, but rather a facilitator. Agreements made through the mediation process are not binding, unless the terms of the agreement are reduced to a court order with the parties’ approval.
Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)
In general, there are two types of ENEs — social (concerning children) and financial (concerning property and cash flow). The concept of the ENE is to get the parties into a neutral evaluator before they become too entrenched in their positions, before formal discovery is served, and before nasty affidavits make settlement difficult or impossible. Attorneys attend with their clients. The parties (with the assistance of their attorneys) present their issues verbally to the neutral along with supporting documentation as needed. It is treated as an informal hearing or mini-trial. After hearing each side present, the neutral deliberates and comes back with a recommendation as to how the court may rule on a given issue. Then, after getting this feedback, the parties, attorneys, and neutral try to reach a binding agreement on the issues in dispute. This approach is experiencing a success rate of approximately seventy percent.
Moderated Settlement Conferences
This method is much like early neutral evaluation. However, it is often used in the late stages of a case just before trial. The neutral’s job is to settle the case. The neutral may hear from the parties and their attorneys, may review proposed exhibits, and will likely give very direct feedback in an effort to get the case settled.
In the arbitration process the parties hire a neutral to decide their case much like a judge would do. However, rules and approaches can be decided by contract between the parties. It may be appropriate where the parties want the proceeding to be more private or they want it to be binding (with no right to appeal) to ensure finality. Sometimes, speed is necessary and a private arbitrator can be more readily available than a judge. In this process, decision-making is out of the hands of the parties and left to the arbitrator.