An SENE is a “Social Early Neutral Evaluation”. It is a voluntary process parents may choose to participate in when they disagree about custody or parenting issues. The SENE is used in divorce cases as well as in custody cases, and can also be used for post-decree disputes. It is an alternative dispute resolution process similar to mediation. Unlike mediation, there are typically two evaluators for an SENE and ideally there will be an evaluator team of one male and one female. It’s ideal because each parent can relate to one of the evaluators.

During an SENE, each parent is given time to present their perspective about their own relationship with their child (children) and to present their opinion about what parenting time and custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interests and why. The Petitioner in the legal matter will present first. There is no advantage to presenting first because both parents are given a chance to talk without interruption by the other parent and both parents are given an opportunity to respond to the other parent’s comments.


Unlike a non-evaluative mediation, the evaluators are expected to provide their professional opinion about how a court might rule on the specific custody and parenting time matters. It can be extremely helpful for moving parents toward an agreement when one parent has taken an unreasonable stand. The evaluators are not judges and their recommendations are just that, only suggestions.

The ultimate decision to reach an agreement or to let the judge decide custody and parenting time is entirely up to the parents. The process helps parents decide whether the cost and time of litigation might be worth spending based on the feedback they get from the evaluators.

The SENE process can save parents not only money, but it can also spare them the emotion of litigating the most personal issues in a divorce. Children are the biggest winners when parents can reach agreements without litigation regarding custody and parenting time.

Experienced Family Law Attorney Christine Callahan is also a Rule 114 neutral, Mediator, and is on the court roster of SENE and FENE evaluators in Scott and Carver counties. Whether you need an attorney who understands the process inside and out, or you need an experienced evaluator, contact us today. 952-975-9961 or

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