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Neutral Case Evaluation: A New Approach To Settling Cases

Since 2011 the Circuit Court has lost approximately 20 judges, mostly due to retirement. Unfortunately, the Court system has not been able to fill a large portion of those empty seats leaving the Circuit Court with approximately 47 sitting judges.

One of the divisions of the Circuit Court that is feeling the shortage of judges the most is the Family Division. In an exciting new effort to help families and individuals get in and out of court more quickly, the Family Division is implementing a pilot program called Neutral Case Evaluation (NCE). NCE will be occurring primarily in the Manchester and Brentwood family courts, however Judges from all circuits are encouraged to recommended cases for NCE.

What is Neutral Case Evaluation?

NCE is exactly what it sounds like, a neutral third-party (typically a sitting or retired judge) will review the parties court file ahead of time and then meet with both parties and their attorneys and evaluate their case. By evaluating the case, the neutral third-party can either help facilitate agreements or simply offer their opinion of the case and how they would rule on the outstanding issues. Once all parties agree to and go through NCE, the neutral third-party who evaluated the case is banned from actually hearing the case if it does end up going back to Court. Much like mediation, NCE is confidential and nothing disclosed/discussed in this process may be used in Court.

What are the Benefits of Neutral Case Evaluation?

There are a number of benefits of going to NCE, one of the biggest being the potential for settlement. When two people are going through a difficult time, it is easy to get caught up in all the details and lose sight of the actual goal. By going to NCE, the neutral third-party will only hear the facts pertaining to any outstanding issue and offer their opinion based on their years of experience. This is a very helpful and meaningful way for individuals to get a good perspective of how the Court will decide their case and will often lead to better settlement discussion.

Another benefit to NCE is that it is creating more time on the Court’s docket in order to allow cases that cannot be settled to get into Court. When a matter is scheduled for NCE, they are removed from the Court’s docket and another case is put in its place. This is incredibly important for individuals and families who have been in the Court system for months or even years due to some Court’s difficulty in having enough judges to hear cases. Ultimately, this not only makes the Court more efficient but it also helps you go through your Court process more quickly.

How Does Your Case Get to Neutral Case Evaluation?

There are a couple of different ways your case can end up in NCE. The most common way is for the Court to recommend your case. What will happen is the Judge will review the case file and based on their assessment you or your attorney, if you have one, will receive a call from the Court asking if you are interested in participating in this process. If all parties agree to NCE, then any hearings that may be scheduled will be removed from the docket and your matter will be rescheduled for a three (3) hour NCE session. If the first three (3) hour session is successful, you can request to come back for another session.

Parties can also attend NCE by making a request to the Court. If all parties are in agreement that NCE is something they want to participate in, the Court who assist you in facilitating a session. Keep in mind that participating in NCE should be taken very seriously and those of us who do participate in this process must be serious about looking to settle their case. Once you are signed up to participate in NCE you will be removed from the Court’s docket and it could take months before you are able to get back on it.

What’s next?

If you are interested in learning more about Neutral Case Evaluation or have any other family law relate questions, please call us in Nashua, NH to set up a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. Call 943-5647. We have flexible hours to work with your busy schedule.

Katherine J. Morneau