When a divorce petition is filed with the court, and there are children involved, the parties receive a notice to attend an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC) where the ENE process is discussed. The parties meet with the judge to learn about various ways their divorce can proceed, either through traditional litigation or through the ENE process. If the ENE process is chosen, the parties select one or two neutrals who will attempt to help them resolve their dissolution issues. The neutrals are chosen from a pre-approved list of experienced family law practitioners. The neutrals evaluate the case and encourage the parties to find common ground for resolution of their issues outside the courtroom.
ICMC proceedings are informal and often not on the record, giving judges a chance to speak openly with the parties to persuade them to complete their divorce through a more amicable process. The ENE mediation process is less adversarial, faster, and less expensive than traditional litigation. It also allows the parties to focus on the best interests of the children and attempts to reserve a relationship between the parents. It further allows the parties to stay in control of the decisions, which leads to more satisfaction in their final resolution and fewer post-decree court appearances.
Since its inception in Dakota County, 89 of 144 total cases have been removed from the courts family calendar. Of those 89 cases, 57 have pursued the ENE process, 25 cases have completely settled at the ICMC, and 7 cases have completely settled prior to the ICMC. The 89 cases represent a 62% success rate of removing cases from the court system. Parties and their attorneys have reported being very satisfied with the ENE process and extremely supportive of it. The pilot is expanding throughout the First Judicial District and the courts expect it to be part of a shift in how family law cases are handled. Hopefully, it will soon be available to those cases which do not include minor children.