Understanding the merits of early neutral evaluation in family law disputes

Posted: 04/02/2016


What is ENE?

One of a number of processes available to resolve disputes faster with less cost and acrimony, ENE provides the parties in dispute with an early indication from a specialist lawyer as to the likely outcome of their case based upon the information that they have been given.

The intention is that by receiving ENE guidance early on in the negotiation process, the parties will be better informed and encouraged to reach a swift settlement and avoid the need for often lengthy and costly litigation.

What can ENE be used for?

It can be used to facilitate agreement upon all manner of disputes from dividing marital assets to deciding with whom and where the children should live.

What’s the process like?

It is separate to any court process and can be used to avoid the fixed timetable and long delays which are the realities of the family court system at present. ENE is part of a shift towards providing creative and bespoke solutions that address the needs of individuals and families outside the inflexible court process. The ENE process is also entirely confidential. This is of increasing importance to clients who wish to deal with matters discretely.

The parties jointly appoint an experienced lawyer (the evaluator) to provide guidance either on a single or discreet set of issues that are the stumbling block to agreement, or all of the issues. The remit and choice of evaluator is up to them to decide. The evaluator is provided with as much information as is available to provide their opinion on how the matter would be decided if it were to go to court. The manner in which the evaluation is delivered can be tailored to suit the people involved: either on paper or at a venue to be decided by those involved.

Is it binding?

No. Although ENE does not provide a binding decision, it can prove to be a powerful and persuasive tool to generate an agreement between the parties involved. Those involved can feel confident that the evaluator has taken time to carefully consider their case (unlike a busy judge at a short court appointment) and comfortable that the agreement they have reached was made on a thorough and well-informed basis.

If, however, the indication does not facilitate an agreement between the parties, it is still possible to pursue a court application (which may be shortened in length because of the ENE) or other means of resolving the dispute.

The team of experienced family lawyers at Penningtons Manches LLP in London, Oxford, Reading and Guildford can advise individuals on whether ENE is appropriate or likely to be effective for each set of circumstances. The team has advised a number of high net worth individuals who used the guidance gleaned at the ENE stage to reach agreement quickly and cost-effectively. However, ENE may not be appropriate for everyone, particularly in financial cases where one party suspects the other of non-disclosure of their assets/liabilities and/or income. Should you require further guidance about understanding whether this approach may be appropriate for you, please contact Rebecca Carlyon (rebecca.carlyon@penningtonslaw.com  / 020 7753 7722).


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