Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Different Approach to Divorce

Going to court is not always necessary to get a fair resolution in your divorce. There are a number of methods of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) available, which allow divorcing parties to take a different approach – one that focuses on obtaining a compromised settlement agreement instead of making arguments to a judge in a trial or contested hearing. These alternative processes can also save time and money. Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) is mandated by the Minnesota Rules of Practice for the District Courts and is required by most county courts in Minnesota for parents going through a divorce or other family court proceeding. Even in cases where it is not required, it may be very beneficial for you to consider participating in one or more forms of ADR before proceeding with a trial.

There are several different forms of ADR available to resolve disputed family court issues (nine of them, in fact), and often they can be a much more efficient and overall better way to address those disputes than by taking them to court to be decided by a judge. ADR usually involves at least one neutral person who is not representing or advocating for either party and may have some special expertise or training in the subject matter of the dispute.

The Advantages Of ADR

There are many advantages to addressing your disputes in an alternative process your family court proceeding. Some examples of those advantages are:

  • You can schedule your session and address your disputes much more quickly than you can by going through the court process.
  • You get to select the person who will serve in as a neutral in your case. Do you want to use a forensic expert as a neutral for a custody or parenting time dispute? For disputes pertaining to property division, how about using a business valuation expert or a real estate appraiser? How about an accountant? You can choose any of those individuals.
  • Depending on the method of ADR used, you have the option of establishing your own unique rules of procedure and/or evidence for your ADR process, which may be less formal or strict than the typical procedural rules that must be followed in a court process.
  • Sometimes you have the option of establishing your own, specific criteria by which the neutral will follow in the ADR process.
  • You can choose whether to participate in a binding or a non-binding ADR process.

Some of these advantages are specific to the method of ADR that you select. For example, while most forms of ADR involve a neutral person, sometimes that person will have the authority to make a final decision, while other times that person will not make any decisions, but rather, simply make recommendations to assist the parties in reaching a compromised settlement.

What Is Early Neutral Evaluation?

Early Neutral Evaluation (“ENE”) has become the most popular form of ADR in Minnesota divorce cases, and participation in the ENE process is now required by the family courts in many counties. This process involves an expert or other very experienced professional, usually an attorney, who examines and evaluates the parties’ claims from a neutral standpoint. This person might also have more extensive experience in the specific county in which your case is located and, as such, might have a better idea as to how your specific judge is likely to decide your disputed issues. The ENE neutral will give you an opinion as to what they believe is more or less likely to happen in court, based on anything from valuing property, to determining child support and spousal maintenance, to assessing custody and parenting time. They can offer a professional opinion from which both parties can gain insight about the legal issues that they need to resolve.

What is Mediation, and How Does it Work in A Divorce?

Mediation is another commonly utilized form of ADR in family court disputes. Similar to ENE, Mediation involves a neutral person (the mediator) who assists the parties in exploring settlement options. The mediator does not make any decisions for the parties. Rather, the mediator helps the parties by listening to their concerns and making suggestions for settlement. It is highly recommended that you utilize the services of a mediator who is familiar with the subject matter of the dispute. Many attorneys, including myself, offer mediation services. However, it is not necessary to hire a lawyer or expert to serve in that role.

Both ENE and mediation are voluntary, non-binding, and confidential processes. The parties may not obtain the neutral’s notes or call the neutral to testify at a subsequent hearing or trial in their case. So, unless the parties agree otherwise, what is discussed in these sessions stays there. Want to know more about how a mediator can help you? Contact me.

Schedule a Consultation with A Divorce Lawyer and Explore your options with ADR

There are other forms of ADR available to those going through a family court dispute. If you would like to discuss any of them further, or if you are searching for an appropriate neutral to serve in your case, don’t hesitate to contact me. You can reach me by phone at 952-641-7485 or by submitting a contact form online.