Following Hennepin County’s lead, and a statewide trend, the Anoka County District Court has implemented a pilot early neutral evaluation program for divorcing couples. The evaluations focus on the two key issues involved in a dissolution: custody of children and economics.

Couples can divert from the court system and meet with qualified “neutrals” who will facilitate settlement discussions and (unlike traditional mediation) offer opinions about the merits of a party’s position. If successful, the process can save litigants months of emotionally-charged litigation and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and costs.

Five Anoka County judges have agreed to participate in the program, including Judge Sharon Hall who says that the early neutral process will allow litigants to “keep some control over their situation.” The family law section of the Anoka County Bar Association has been a driving force behind the program, which provides litigants with yet another alternative to traditional litigation.

One big difference between the program in Anoka and Hennepin County involves funding. While Hennepin County covers the bulk of the costs for litigants, the Anoka County program has a very limited budget. Work is done by local lawyers, not county employees, on a sliding fee scale.