CAPS, in conjunction with the Elkhart County Collaborative Task Force (ECCTF), is excited to announce the Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) pilot program.

This new program strives to move families through the court system efficiently and inexpensively. By working with families who are experiencing conflict over issues like custody, visitation and other family matters, ENE helps parents reach agreements that are in the best interest of their families and children.

“With the support of the local courts, CAPS and the ECCTF have been studying the concept of ENE for the past two years to determine if it would be a useful process in Elkhart County,” said CAPS’ Court Services Director Justin Allen. In the fall of 2018, CAPS hosted a training for approximately 30 attorneys and social workers to teach them the ENE service delivery model. Since that time, they have been finalizing all the details of implementation and are now open to accepting their first referrals from the court.

During an early neutral evaluation, parties and their attorneys attend an ENE session with experienced evaluators. Each side presents its view. The evaluators discuss the case alone and then share their perspective on the merits of each position. Evaluators identify the key issues and predict how the case is most likely to conclude. The parties are always able to confer with their attorneys and discuss settlement. Sometimes additional meetings are scheduled.

Most participants in ENE will save a considerable amount of time and money. ENE is, on average, fully concluded within 90 days. In comparison, a case that moves through a traditional court setting can easily take more than a full year’s time.

The ENE process has a demonstrated history of success in other locations. Elkhart County has been utilizing professionals from Minnesota to guide them through this process as they utilize ENE statewide. ENE success rates in Minnesota have been reported as high as 49 percent of cases reaching a full settlement, with another 21 percent reaching a partial settlement. Thus, the nearly 70 percent of parties participating reached some sort of settlement.

With these positive statistics and the help of local professionals willing to volunteer their time in the program, Elkhart is hopeful ENE will make a positive impact on families in the community.


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