Early Neutral Case Evaluation is a process blending Neutral Case Evaluation and a Settlement conference, as defined in the Maryland Rule 17-102. I offer my services as a neutral evaluator, together with a psychologist, in contested child custody and parenting disputes. Together as neutrals, we provide multi-disciplinary, neutral case evaluations from both the legal and mental health perspectives.
Neutral Case Evaluation is a process in which (1) the parties, their attorneys, or both appear before an impartial evaluator and present in summary fashion the evidence and arguments to support their respective positions, and (2) the evaluator renders an evaluation of their positions and an opinion as to the likely outcome of the litigation.
A Settlement Conference is a conference at which the parties, their attorneys, or both appear before an impartial individual to discuss the issues and positions of the parties in an attempt to agree on a resolution of all or part of the dispute by means other than trial. A settlement conference may include neutral case evaluation and neutral fact-finding, and the impartial individual may recommend the terms of an agreement.
The process involves:
- A pre-evaluation intake, during which we gather parties’ contact information to confirm that we have no prior contact with the family and can serve as neutrals.
- Scheduling the Early Neutral Case Evaluation. We set aside 4 hours for the Conference, which are broken down as follows:
- First 2 hours dedicated to both parents presenting their evidence & arguments in two 1-hour segments;
- Next 30 minutes dedicated to the neutrals’ deliberation and conveying their evaluation and opinion of likely outcome in litigation;
- Remaining 90 minutes dedicated to settlement, facilitated by the neutrals.
Settlement is the goal. If settlement cannot be achieved, the parties receive of input about the strengths and weaknesses of their positions, costs/benefits of litigation, and potential services for the family’s benefit.
Generally speaking, potential outcomes are:
- Settlement of some or all the issues presented;
- No settlement, in which case the parties and their attorneys proceed to other processes to resolve their matter;
- In certain cases requiring additional services from outside professionals/providers before the neutral evaluation portion can be completed, a recommended process and opportunity to resume the ENCE process once additional services have been provided.
I offer this service in contested child custody and parenting matters. Ideally, an Early Neutral Case Evaluation will help parties resolve contested child custody and parenting disputes that otherwise would likely result in costly contested litigation. An Early Neutral Case Evaluation can occur at any time before a litigated decision, but ideally before litigation is initiated or early in the litigation process. An Early Neutral Case Evaluation can also be used to break through settlement impasse if litigation has not been filed.
This settlement process is confidential (with very limited exceptions for reporting abuse and potential harm to self or others). All participants must sign a confidentiality agreement that no part of the Early Neutral Case Evaluation can be disclosed or used during any litigation, that no evaluator can be called as witness in any litigation, and that no evaluation and/or recommendation shall be used or admissible in any other matter.
Early Neutral Case Evaluation is different from mediation because the neutral evaluator hears argument and positions, assesses the parties’ positions, and makes recommendations about the outcome and potential terms of an agreement. A mediator does not recommend terms of an agreement.