Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Neutral Evaluation (“NE”) is a confidential dispute resolution process to help parties settle their domestic relations issues. Neutral Evaluation provides a neutral forum for parties and their attorneys to discuss the issues in their case and receive a balanced and unbiased evaluative impression of the case. This evaluation can assist parties in assessing their case and exploring settlement opportunities. During the NE session the Evaluator will oversee the discussion to allow each party and his/her attorney the opportunity to be heard in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect.
Who is the Evaluator?
Currently, Magistrate Kimberly Stump Combs is the NE evaluator. Magistrate Combs has been a practicing attorney since 1996 and has been a Magistrate with the Court since 2003. Magistrate Combs has extensive experience managing family law disputes and has also been trained as a family law mediator.
How does the process begin?
The assigned Judge or Magistrate will discuss NE with the parties and/or their attorneys. If the Judge or Magistrate decides to send the case to NE an Order will be issued providing the day and time of the NE session. The NE Order will also list the type of issues to be evaluated: Parenting, Property, Financial and/or Spousal Support. Most of the time NE takes 3-4 hours. If the NE session results in a settled agreement, a judicial officer will be available to read the settlement into the record. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the matter will be returned to the assigned judicial official and scheduled for further proceedings.
In order to help the evaluator prepare for the NE session, both parties will submit briefs to the evaluator and to the other party and/or attorney. Briefs must be delivered to the evaluator, other party and/or attorney at least 7 days before the scheduled NE session. Fines may be assessed for late submission or failure to submit briefs. These briefs shall not be filed with the Clerk of Court. The evaluator will shred the briefs upon the completion of the NE process. The format for the briefs is available on the Court’s website.
What happens during Neutral Evaluation
At the beginning of the NE session, the Evaluator will fully explain the NE process and ground rules. Each party will then have an opportunity to explain what disputes are at issue and his/her perspective on the solution to the issues. Attorneys will be given a brief opportunity to supplement their client’s perspective. The Evaluator may ask questions of either party and/or the attorneys.
After a short break, the Evaluator will provide an evaluation of the probable outcome of the case if the case went to trial before the Court. Parties will then meet privately with their attorneys to discuss the evaluation. Both parties and their attorneys will then come together with the Evaluator to explore settlement proposals.
How much does Neutral Evaluation cost?
There is are no additional court costs to participate in Neutral Evaluation. This program is a free service offered by the Court in order to assist litigants with resolving their case more quickly and efficiently.
In cases where an agreement is possible or likely, attorneys may consider mediation which is available through the Court. There are several benefits to mediation, including: