A Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE) is part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution process in Minnesota divorce cases. A FENE typically takes place after the parties participate in the Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC).
The purpose of a FENE, much like the Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE), is to help parties resolve financial issues early in the divorce process. A FENE is usually attended by both of the parties and their attorneys if they are represented. The parties and their attorneys meet with an evaluator who is well-versed in both finances as well as Minnesota property laws.
What to Bring to a FENE
Both parties bring the following information to the FENE:
- Information about and valuations of the property that they own
- Documents varifying each party’s respective incomes, including pay stubs
- Their tax returns
- Information about their earning potential
- Any account statements for retirement accounts, stocks, savings accounts, checking accounts, etc.
- A monthly budget demonstrating their needs and expenses
Based on the information provided, the evaluator will produce a recommendation based on what he or she believes the Court would order if the matter went to trial.
Evaluators often have very advanced software to aid the parties in the division of assets. Evaluators will sometimes use programs such as FinPlan or Divorce Math to help determine tax consequences of maintenance, potential deductions for dependents, and other matters.
Benefits of a Financial Early Neutral Evaluation
Parties who benefit from FENEs are those who have spousal maintenance issues, complex child support issues, or property disposition issues. The FENE process is very beneficial to parties who are unrepresented as well. Oftentimes, it is beneficial for an unrepresented party to learn from a neutral third party (the evaluator) what a Court may order.
Even if the parties are unable to settle their financial issues, a FENE is valuable because it gives both parties and their attorneys a sneak peak at the issues and allegations that may come up at trial. For example, a party may claim that their spouse is hiding assets in another parties’ name, or perhaps it is discovered that there is a loan against one of the parties’ 401(k). It is a good tool for planning ahead if the matter proceeds to litigation.
The FENE process is confidential, which means that the recommendations of the evaluator cannot be shared with the judge. Moreover, any offers of settlement made by the parties cannot be used in court. This does not limit the discovery process. If it is learned that there is an extra account that a party was unaware of, that party is still able to request that information outside of the FENE through discovery.
What to Expect at a FENE
FENEs will typically be scheduled for three to four hours. However, sometimes there is missing information, appraisals that need to be made, or simply not enough time to fully complete the evaluation. In these cases, the parties and their counsel will sometimes schedule additional sessions.
The cost of evaluators varies based on their experience. Depending on the county, sometimes the cost of the evaluator is offered on a sliding scale if the evaluation is completed through the court process.