More and more people going through a family court matter are choosing to participate in an Early Neutral Evaluation (“ENE”) rather than jumping right to a trial where a judge shall permanently decide the matter. An Early Neutral Evaluation is a confidential evaluation process that occurs within a month or two of a family court case being filed with the court. Some parties choose to use mediation which is similar to an ENE. No matter which process the parties choose, a written agreement is drafted toward the end of the ENE or mediation laying out a general understanding of what was agreed to by the parties. The parties are then asked to sign it if they want their agreement put in writing and enforceable.
It is incredibly important for people who are going to go through an ENE or mediation to understand the implication of signing this sort of agreement, especially if the other side is not being cooperative or may be withholding information. Consulting with an attorney early on in a case and before an ENE or mediation before making a decision that is likely going to be enforced by a judge is vital.
There are times when a person participating in the ENE changes his or her mind. Is the ENE or mediation agreement still enforceable? Most ENE or mediation agreements have the following similar language:
The parties acknowledge they have been advised that by signing this Agreement, they intend to be bound to its terms. Further, they understand a court shall specifically enforce this agreement if asked to do so. They also understand a court may award fees and costs against a party who refuses to comply with the terms of this Agreement. The parties have had adequate time to review the Agreement and they understand its terms. The parties agree this agreement is fair and equitable, and they understand that this agreement is binding on both of them and shall be enforced by the Court.
With this language, it is very unlikely a judge is going to allow someone to get out of the ENE or mediation agreement. Judges treat these agreements as a contract and they will enforce them.
Experienced family law attorney Jessica L. Sterle has years of experience in the ENE and mediation process. She can be reached at (218) 722-2655.