7th District  

Early Case Management and Early Neutral Evaluation
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Early Case Management and Early Neutral Evaluation

What is Family Early Case Management?

Early Case Management (ECM) is a process for handling marriage dissolution and custody cases. The purpose of ECM is to facilitate early resolution of disputes without the need for extensive court intervention.  There are essentially two components to Early Case Management. The first is the Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC), which will be described in more detail below. The second component is the use of Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE), a type of alternative dispute resolution.

Cases In Which The Early Case Management Process Will Be Applicable:

Early Case Management process should be utilized in the following cases filed in Clay County, whether the parties are represented by counsel or self-represented:

  • Marriage dissolution cases
  • Paternity cases in which custody or parenting is at issue
  • Motions for custody and/or parenting time

Any of the above-referenced cases in which the initial filing is accompanied by an executed settlement agreement which resolves all issues in dispute would not be required to participate in the ECM process.

Initial Case Management Conference 

  • This is a mandatory hearing attended by both parties and, if they are represented by counsel, their attorneys.  
  • It is held within three weeks of the initial filing of a marriage dissolution, child custody case or post-decree motion.
  • The parties are required to complete and return the confidential data sheets sent out by court administration at least two days prior to the ICMC.  This information will help the judge understand what issues are in dispute.  If you have not received one or need another copy, a downloadable form is available at this site.
  • With few exceptions, discovery and motions may not be served or filed prior to the ICMC.
  • At the ICMC, the judge has the parties identify the issues and then explains the use of and encourages the parties to utilize some type of alternative dispute resolution.

Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)

  • ENE is a type of alternative dispute resolution involving the use of neutrals to identify areas of agreement and to utilize an evaluative process by experienced neutral evaluators to assist the parties in resolving areas of dispute.
  • There are two types of early neutral evaluation.
    • Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE) is a process in which two neutrals (one female and one male) who are experienced in custody issues evaluate and address with the parties issues involving children including custody, parenting time, child support, and similar collateral issues.
    • Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE) is a process in which one neutral experienced in the financial aspects of family law cases evaluates and addresses with the parties the financial aspects of family cases including property valuation and division and spousal maintenance.
  • Both processes, while encouraged by the Court, are entirely voluntary. Most cases will involve only one type of ENE.
  • The ENE process is designed to take place ideally within 30 days of the ICMC, and, with limited exceptions, the parties cannot engage in discovery or motion practice until the ENE process has been completed.

Benefits of the ENE Process:

Several benefits have been identified from the ENE process in family law cases:

  • reduced costs and acrimony for the parties
  • earlier resolution and certainty for children
  • increased settlement rates
  • reduced time from filing to disposition
  • fewer appeals and post-decree proceedings
  • reduced need for extensive and expensive custody evaluations and trials

ECM Forms

Listed below are forms that are designed to assist you in becoming more familiar with ENE in Clay County.  The Initial Case Conference Data Sheet is a form that must be completed and submitted at least two (2) days before your scheduled Initial Case Management Conference.  The other forms contain more detailed information about ENE and its cost.


  • Program Description
  • ICMC Data Sheet
  • Fee Scale
  • SENE Provider Roster
  • FENE Provider Roster
  • Stipulation before ICMC – for attorneys only
  • Guideline for How to Prepare for an SENE

Neutral Evaluators

  • Memorandum of Custody and Understanding and Agreement
  • Memorandum of Financial Issues Understanding and Agreement

Self-Help Center Website for unrepresented parties


Court Forms Website