Typically the SENE will involve both parties, both attorneys, and two court-appointed custody evaluators. Usually three hours is blocked for a session. During the session, each party (and his or her attorney) is given the opportunity to explain what they would like for a custody and parenting time arrangement, and why. Questions from the evaluators are asked and answered. Then there is a break while the evaluators confer. Then the meeting reconvenes and recommendations are given and explained, whereupon the parties discuss settlement.
The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.
There are several key advantages to mediation of divorce and other family law related disputes. First, you know what is best for you and your family. You live your life. You understand your financial circumstances. You know your children. You are best equipped to make decisions about your future. If you place your dispute in the hands of the court, a judge who knows very little about the details of your life will make decisions for you and, in most cases, you will have no choice but to live with that decision.
Conversely, there is no way to finalize your divorce through mediation alone. Even if you reach a tentative agreement in mediation, this agreement must be formalized in a written stipulation, signed by both parties and their attorneys, and ultimately approved by the Court.  This signed stipulation — not your verbal agreements from mediation sessions — is what becomes the enforceable terms of your divorce, and should be prepared or at least reviewed and revised by your lawyer before you sign.
Many metropolitan counties, as well as more and more outstate counties, have developed several innovative tools aimed at facilitating quick resolution of traditionally volatile areas - custody/parenting time and economic disputes. If the court is advised a custody/parenting time is present, the judicial officer will suggest that the parties participate in an "Early Neutral Custody Evaluation," referred to as a Social Early Neutral Evaluation "SENE" or in some counties and in others a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation "CPENE." In this process the parties and counsel will be quickly scheduled to meet with two experts on child custody matters, one male and one female. Many counties have rosters listing the names of people certified to act as an Early Neutral Custody Evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet for three hours with the evaluators, with each party then afforded the opportunity to explain their role in raising the children, and what type of a parenting schedule they believe to be in their children's best interests. The two evaluators will then briefly adjourn, and then return to advise the parties what recommendation would result from a full custody evaluation. Many parties are able to reach a settlement of most parenting time issues after hearing this informal report.
Then there are the parties who fall into the trap of thinking the best way to divide up assets and liabilities is by splitting each item down the middle. That can lead to thousands of dollars in additional fees that wouldn’t have been necessary if they had waited for an expert mediator skilled in the finances of divorce to offer alternative more efficient options.
Clients often ask whether they should move out of the marital home prior to or during the commencement of divorce proceedings. The answer is very clear: “it depends”. Generally speaking, if child custody, parenting time, or possession of the home might be an issue in the proceedings, I advise against it. Although no legal precedent is created by moving out, the lawyer for the remaining occupant routinely argues that:
There is a growing movement toward using alternatives to traditional litigation to resolve divorce cases. One of the most popular options is mediation, which involves both spouses, and their attorneys, meeting with a neutral person trained to help them come to an agreement that is mutually acceptable. Our family law lawyers have often served as divorce mediators in Minnesota and represented hundreds of clients as such.
The length of time to complete a divorce depends upon several things. If both sides reach an agreement or if one spouse never responds to divorce papers, a divorce doesn't take much time. If both sides can't agree, then the judge has to decide. In this case it will take much longer because the court will need to gather information and schedule time in order to make a fair decision. Gathering information might mean having a custody evaluation done or getting financial information.
NOTE: There are many ways to divide real estate in a divorce. The court forms for marriage dissolution (divorce) only give you 1 option -- one spouse gets 100% of the house, cabin, or other real estate, and the other spouse gets a lien. But, you can change the court forms. An attorney can explain other options, advise you about the law, and draft terms to meet your situation. If your divorce involves real estate, you should get advice from a lawyer on your legal rights and options.