As early as three weeks after filing for divorce, the parties must appear before the judicial officer assigned to their case. This first appearance is called the “Initial Case Management Conference.”
The ICMC is an informal hearing. No arguments are presented, or decisions made – except for a determination concerning how to move forward in the most efficient manner.
Any issues that are not resolved among the parties can be resolved through the selection of a settlement process known as early neutral evaluation. The fundamental purpose of the ICMC is to obtain a referral for ENE – or elect to litigate.
One neutral expert is assigned in the Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (“FENE“) program. They start by gathering all of the necessary financial information, and listening carefully to the position of each party (with the assistance of their lawyer). A candid assessment made regarding the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case. Negotiation follows.
Fortunately, more than 70% of cases are resolved through FENE, with approximately $1,000 in neutral expert fees. This may seem expensive, but the end result is a fraction of the cost of traditional litigation and trial.
Social Issue Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE) is used to resolve custody and parenting issues. In this type of evaluation, there are two custody experts assigned – one male and one female, to avoid any perceived gender bias.
The evaluators meet with the parties, and their lawyers, to listen to their position. Once all of the information is presented, the evaluators break, and meet privately to discuss the matter. Then, they return to provide an evaluative opinion about the likely outcome if the matter moved forward to a more traditional custody study. Once the opinion is given, the parties discuss and negotiate. Approximately 65% of SENE referrals result in a settlement.