What to Expect in Minnesota Divorce Court: The Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (“FENE”)

Your FENE will most likely be conducted by one individual, either an attorney with divorce experience or a financial professional such as an accountant. This person will have knowledge of the law and how assets and income are viewed by the courts and judges in determining a division of marital property and support, both child support and spousal maintenance (formerly known as alimony), if applicable. This includes knowledge of how to handle pre-tax and post-tax assets, and to determine reasonable budgets, taxes, and cash flow for support purposes.

In the FENE process, the attorneys can take more of a lead on the presentation of facts and legal arguments supporting the division of assets/debts, spousal maintenance, child support, etc. In some cases, there will be arguments that there has been a dissipation of assets or a wrongful use of marital funds. This can come in the form of a claim of hidden debt, excessive spending, or spending that was for an “improper” purpose, like an affair or an addiction (gambling, alcohol or drugs, etc.). In all this, you should be prepared to address the allegations that might be raised either in advance or at the meeting, and to speak to any concerns you have about financial matters. If you have engaged in any such behavior, you need to share that information with your attorney so you are prepared to respond and so your attorney is not surprised, but can give you the best advice. There is also likely to be a discussion of non-marital items. This often includes personal effects that you have received as gifts or inherited. It can also include financial assets, like the balances and growth on the portion of retirement that was earned before the marriage, or a calculation of a non-marital claim in the home. These types of issues generally involve both an ‘explanation’ from the client as well as significant documentation, some of which is from long ago, to back up the assertions. Again, you want to have discussions about this with your lawyer to make sure to gather and present the necessary documents. With respect to support (spousal maintenance or child support), there are some very specific issues that should be addressed with paperwork in advance to be prepared. They are:

  1. Paycheck stubs;
  2. Tax returns;
  3. Information on bonus or commission income;
  4. Self-employment income and deductions, including whether some are mixed between the business and personal use (like a home office or cell phone, for example);
  5. Health care premiums, including a breakdown of the cost for the parent providing it alone and then the total cost for that parent with the children, to isolate the cost of the children’s coverage;
  6. Description of the actual coverage, including providers, deductibles, co-pays, etc.;
  7. A detailed projected budget, breaking down the expenses into the portions for the party and the children;
  8. A detailed description of child care costs for an entire year, so that an average of the school year and summer care can be used.

As in an SENE, after the presentations the provider will suggest a resolution, and that can be negotiated and signed to be binding. If there is no resolution, the process remains confidential. Your next steps are likely a motion or pretrial (come back for more to come on that in the next few months).

Contact Mary B. Rannells Rowan at (952) 746-2180 or [email protected] if you need an attorney for your family law matter.