What is Early Neutral Assessment (ENA) or Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)?

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 one ENA team in Weld County, 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 March 2018, in Larimer County, the cost for the ENA session is $460 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.

Do I need a Child and Family Investigator?

If there are disputed issues regarding children, under Colorado law, §14-10-116.5, C.R.S., the Court may appoint a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) to investigate, report, and make recommendations to the Court.  Either Party may ask for a CFI or the Court may appoint a CFI if the Court believes one is needed.

The CFI may be an attorney, a mental health professional, or any other individual whom the Court believes is able to fill this role.  Most CFIs are either attorneys or mental health professionals.  All CFIs are required to have special training regarding the investigation of a custody case and are bound by various rules (Chief Justice Directives) issued by the Colorado Supreme Court.  See, for example, Chief Justice Directive 04-08.

A CFI can investigate any or all issues in a custody case.  These issues may include primary residence, parenting time, decision-making, allegations of endangerment/child abuse, and relocation.  The CFI’s duties are to investigate the current situation, including meeting with the child(ren), to file a report with the Court, and to testify, if necessary concerning his or her investigation.   The CFI Report is intended to be brief and focused.  A CFI Report can usually be completed in 2-3 months.  Once the investigation is complete, the CFI will submit their report to the Court.  The recommendations of the CFI are not orders of the Court — the recommendations are considered just like any other evidence presented by a Party.  However, oftentimes, the Court does follow the CFI’s recommendations or uses them as a guide for their orders.

As of 2016, in the State of Colorado, the Colorado Supreme Court set a $2,750 cap on the  overall fee for a CFI unless there are extreme circumstances.  The primary reason for the cap is to provide for a predictable fee for the CFI report and avoid situations where the CFI report becomes unaffordable for Parties.  The cost for the CFI is usually split between the Parties and indigent Parties may request that the State of Colorado pay for their portion if they qualify.  Not all CFIs accept state pay cases.  Some CFIs also offer a reduced fee basis.

There are 22 Judicial Districts in Colorado.  A list of the CFIs approved by each Judicial District may be available through each District Court.

Rice Law Office can assist you in preparing for a CFI report, providing you with information about a specific CFI’s procedures, how to gather important  information and provide collaterals to help the CFI understand the issues.