Early Neutral Assessment (ENA) is a voluntary, informal, alternative dispute resolution process that was first developed by the Hennepin County Family Court program in Minneapolis. It was initiated to allow parents to remain in control of major decisions about their family, while lowering the conflict that is so harmful to the children. ENA typically only addresses issues related to the children (i.e. parenting time and decision-making).
Some Counties use ENA for relocation cases and other Counties do not believe that ENA should be used for relocation cases. Although ENA is usually used for pre-decree divorce cases, it may be used in a post-decree (after divorce) case. The idea with ENA is to give the parents and idea of what the Court might do in their case and try to resolve the case outside of Court.
ENA is usually facilitated by a team of an attorney and a mental health professional. As of 2017, we have one ENA team in Larimer County, Kathleen McNamara, Ph.D. and Robert Smith, J.D. and two ENA teams in Weld County, Jack Gardner, Psy.D. and Ashley Chase, J.D. and Barry Lindstrom, Ph.D. and Dianne Peterson, J.D.
Our ENA team members are very experienced attorneys or psychologists who have done numerous Child and Family Investigations (CFI) and/or Parental Responsibility Evaluation (PRE) reports and served as expert witnesses in family law cases.
As of July 2013, in Larimer County, the cost for the ENA session is $400 per person (more expensive than mediation with the Office of Dispute Resolution but cheaper than a CFI). Here is a typical example of the ENA process. After the ENA team gives a brief overview of the process, each parent talks about their view of the situation, the other parent can briefly respond, and the attorneys, if any, can add any legal issues that were missed. After the ENA team asks any clarifying questions, the ENA team takes a brief break to talk separately about what they think the Court might do if the matter was litigated and then gives the parents their thoughts. The Court is available to answer questions or to put agreements on the record.
A video about the ENA process describes how the 17th Judicial District (Adams and Broomfield Counties) established an Early Neutral Assessment Program to help divorcing couples make their own decisions regarding child custody and developing their own parenting plan.