A Social Early Neutral Evaluation (or SENE) is part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process. The purpose of the SENE is for the evaluators to give a recommendation for custody and parenting time for the parties’ children. A SENE typically does not deal with child support issues. Child support is usually discussed at the FENE (Financial Early Neutral Evaluation).
A SENE typically consists of two evaluators: one man and one woman. These evaluators will have extensive experience in working with children either on a therapeutic basis, as a guardian ad litem, or as a family law attorney dealing with custody matters. Generally, the parties, their counsel, and the evaluators are all in one room during the evaluation portion of the session. At the SENE, each party has the opportunity to discuss the following:
Each party has the chance to respond to any allegations and concerns brought up by the other parent.
After each party has the chance to speak and respond to any allegations, the evaluators will take a break to confer with each other. After the break, the parties, their attorneys, and the evaluators reconvene and the evaluators give their recommendations for custody and parenting time. After the evaluators give their recommendations, the parties are encouraged to discuss the recommendations and possibly reach a settlement on the outstanding custody and parenting time issues.
If the parties are able to reach an agreement, their counsel can draft an agreement for the parties to sign. This is to ensure that the agreements reached are solidified and that neither party can renege on the agreement. If the SENE takes place at a courthouse, oftentimes the parties have the ability to go into one of the court rooms and read their agreement to a court reporter to ensure that the agreement is solidified.
As with the FENE, the recommendations of the SENE evaluators are confidential. Neither the evaluators nor their recommendations can be subpoenaed and the evaluators cannot be called at trial to testify. Thus, if you receive a recommendation that you do not agree with, the judge will never know what the evaluators recommended.
The evaluators are mandatory reporters, and if they learn of abuse during the session they are obligated to disclose that information to the authorities.
The cost of evaluators varies. If you are participating in the SENE process through the Court, then there is sometimes a sliding fee scale offered based on the parties’ income or the hourly fees they are paying their attorney.
Even if the SENE does not result in a resolution, it is a great tool to learn what issues are going to be brought up at trial. Also, if a resolution is not reached immediately at the SENE, sometimes it can act as a guide for future settlement negotiations.