Most courts give parents the opportunity to work with independent evaluators soon after the case is filed to see if they can reach an agreement about custody, parenting time, money and property. The two types of ENE are: Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.
The major difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that if you have a legal separation, you are still married. The wife may not resume using her former name. If you decide you want to end your marriage after a legal separation is complete, you will need to go through the court process to get divorced. Some couples choose legal separation because of religious beliefs or moral values against divorce. In other cases, there may be insurance or other financial reasons for a legal separation.
A family law mediator is a neutral party specially trained to help couples resolve the issues in their divorce. The mediator facilitates the communication between the parties by making sure each party is given an uninterrupted time to speak, asking a party to restate or explain a point when necessary, and asking questions to make communication clear. The mediator also provides information about the legal system, how issues may be viewed by lawyers or judges, and what alternatives there are for solving issues. When necessary, the mediator will refer the couple to third party experts for services such as appraisals.
In order to make custody determinations the court evaluates the best interests of the children using 13 key factors which are defined in MN 518.17.In addition to being financially expensive, formal custody evaluations are also often highly adversarial and emotionally damaging for all involved, especially the children. In the end, a “victory” is often bittersweet and both parents will have some amount of court ordered parenting time. Rather than seek to prove that one parent is better than the other, it is critical to recognize that both parents are important in different ways – each providing that which can only be given by a mother or a father. You are the experts about your life and your children. You are the best qualified to make decisions about how to restructure your family and parenting time after divorce. As your mediator, I help you evaluate and discuss parenting time options and make child-focused decisions about how each of you will remain significantly involved with your children.
Divorce mediation still feels like a new idea in some parts of the country, but it’s increasingly well-known and widely accepted. Mediation means different things to different people. In the form I recommend, you and your spouse would sit down in the same room with each other and with a neutral mediator. With the mediator’s help, you would work through all the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can get through your divorce.
If one party denies under oath that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the Court may not grant the divorce without finding irretrievable breakdown, after a hearing and consideration of all relevant factors, including but not limited to: 1) the circumstances that gave rise to the commencement of the proceedings; and 2) the prospect of reconciliation.  The Court may not find irretrievable breakdown as long as a reasonable prospect of reconciliation exists. 
A custody determination basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, Minnesota child custody law provides for the judge to decide the issue, after considering the following factors:
Essentially, a Social Early Neutral Evaluation is similar to mediation in that it is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is voluntary and non-binding. The difference is that with ordinary mediation, the mediator generally will not take a position. Whereas the evaluators presiding over an SENE are specifically tasked to give their recommendations, as a way to help the parties reach a settlement.
A divorce can get complicated if the parties have property (real estate, automobiles, vacation property, pensions, jewelry, etc.) or minor children. Usually, the divorce can be done more quickly if the spouses agree on how to divide the property and handle custody and parenting time with the children. Many cases start out with a lot of disputes, but then the parties are able to reach an agreement. Parties often reach agreement after using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services outside of court. NOTE: If you feel threatened by or unsafe with the other party, you may want to get legal advice or help from an advocate before using ADR.