Family law cases are complicated, and they are often better resolved if the parties can reach an agreement outside of the courtroom. Alternate Dispute Resolution allows parties to craft more personalized and flexible solutions that are tailored to the circumstances facing their families. Usually, ADR in family law cases takes the form of mediation, in which a neutral third-party helps the parties to discuss and reach agreement on their issues.
The Colorado Dispute Resolution Act also provides for Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) as an ADR mechanism. C.R.S. §13-22-302(2). The idea behind ENE is to involve a court-appointed evaluator early in the process to assist the parties in case management by identifying, simplifying, and eliminating some issues when possible. Essentially, the evaluator listens to the parties’ positions and offers feedback on the likely outcome of the issue in front of the court. This is different from mediation because the purpose of the ENE meeting is not necessarily to get either side to compromise; rather, the goal is to provide the parties with realistic feedback about their changes in court.
In May of this year, Denver County announced that it has initiated an Early Neutral Assessment pilot project allowing parties to opt in to the project. The project will cost $400 per party (though the Office of the Child Representative has agreed to fund ENA for indigent parties). If parties opt in to the program, they will work with a two-person team consisting of a mental health professional and a retired judge.
The biggest advantage of ENE in family law cases seems to be the ability to get feedback regarding potential outcomes earlier in the process than would otherwise be typical. I will be very curious to see how this process works throughout Colorado and hope that it can help parties move through the process more quickly and inexpensively.