In Hennepin County and Ramsey County, the family courts have adjusted to make the process more amicable for cases. Instead of filing a case and having nothing happen for some time, the courts have been automatically setting an initial hearing roughly 3-4 weeks after the time when the case was filed. This hearing, called the Initial Case Management Conference or ICMC for short, allows the parties to meet the judicial officer in charge of their case. It also gives the court the opportunity to assess the issues early on and determine what the best way to handle the case would be.
The ICMC is usually a very informal hearing. Often at ICMCs, the court will order the parties to attend a mediation or early neutral evaluation. This gives the parties the opportunity to work together to try to work out their problems before going further in the court process and becoming more divided. Without using any alternative to court, the parties often become more hostile and set in their ways, and settlement becomes more and more difficult. The courts do not really want to decide such personal issues for people, and the result is often easier for everyone to follow if the parties come to an agreement on any issues without a judge’s help.
Of course, not all cases are suited for resolving through mediation or early neutral evaluation. For example, when domestic violence is an issue, it may be necessary to have the court’s involvement throughout the process. ICMCs allow the court to discover that early on and possibly move up any trial dates so that parties can move on with their lives.
More and more counties are recognizing the benefits of earlier involvement in family law cases. Early neutral evaluation is being integrated into many court systems across the state, and the results have been successful.