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Sometimes solutions can be hard to find during a separation or divorce. Our Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) service provides a way of helping to unlock such disputes. You both hear the same view, from the same neutral lawyer, at the same time.

A specialist lawyer will provide a non-binding assessment showing of the pros and cons of your respective cases and issues. This is used to prompt discussions that make it easier for you to reach an agreement.

ENE can assist in relation to issues concerning children or finances. It is sometimes known as private financial dispute resolution in the context of financial matters.

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Frequently asked questions

Is the opinion given binding?

No, the evaluator cannot determine matters in the way that a court or an arbitrator can. The evaluation provided during ENE cannot be referred to in any subsequent court proceedings. The ENE is designed to consider without prejudice positions, so that the evaluation aids settlement.

How will the opinion be given?

ENE can be conducted in the manner of a traditional hearing, either in-person or remotely via video platforms. These can range from a full day ‘hearing’ to shorter discrete issue sessions. Alternatively, ENE can be conducted ‘on-paper’ with the evaluator assessing evidence and written submissions before giving a written opinion.

When should we consider ENE?

ENE is intended to help parties as early as possible so that they can cut through matters before incurring significant expense or becoming entrenched in a dispute. However, it can be used at any stage.

It is common for couples to consider mediation first when it comes to resolving disputes, before moving to ENE to unlock key points that were otherwise unable to be resolved by agreement. It helps to collate everything in advance, something we can guide you on if required.

How is ENE different to mediation?

With ENE you are given an opinion, based on legal expertise and experience, on what your outcome would likely be if you were at court. The evaluator’s role in ENE is to provide opinion and it is then for the two parties to seek to resolve matters with the benefit of that insight. In contrast, a mediator does not provide any legal opinion and will only provide information but will use skills and techniques to help resolve a dispute.

What are the advantages of ENE compared to going to court?

ENE offers many advantages when compared to the traditional court process:

A bespoke service – you choose what it is that you want assistance with and agree what documents need to be produced.

Speed – ENE can be arranged at short notice.

Cost savings – this process is generally faster and more streamlined so incurs less costs. 

Efficiency – if you attend a court hearing you are likely to waste time and costs waiting around for the judge to be ready to hear your case. With ENE the evaluator dedicates time exclusively to you and is available as and when needed.

Comfort – session length, time and location can all be dictated by you to make it as easy as possible.        

Agreements that endure – reaching an agreement after ENE is often better than a solution that is imposed by a court and is more likely to be adhered to.

Privacy – any venues used for ENE are likely to be more discreet than a public court building.

Do we need separate solicitors if we engage in ENE?

No. Traditionally, you would each instruct your own lawyers to assist in presenting your case and preparing for ENE. We are happy to support this, but there is no requirement to do so.

What types of dispute are suited to ENE?

ENE can resolve disputes in relation to children or finances. It can be flexible and either seek to address the entire case (i.e. resolve the full arrangements for a child or all financial matters) or it can address a discrete point that has otherwise blocked an agreement being reached.

Are there any disputes that are not suited to ENE?

Yes. There are some circumstances where it may not be the best process for you. For example, if there is a significant factual dispute that can only be determined after extensive witness evidence or, in the case of children issues, where there are any significant welfare concerns. If we do not feel ENE is right for you then we will signpost you to an alternative service.

We recommend that you both attend an AIM before engaging in ENE to ensure it is the best process for you.

What happens if we still cannot agree after receiving the opinion?

Generally, the prospects of success are good.  Approximately 4 out of 5 couples settle at, or shortly after the FDR hearing in the court process. The statistics for private processes are thought to be better still. However, if you still cannot agree you will be signposted to alternative services that can help determine matters for you, including arbitration.

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