With the evolution of ADR processes, parties have more options than ever to resolve their legal disputes outside of court. One of those options is neutral evaluation. Neutral evaluation is an informal process in which the parties engage the services of a neutral third party, known as an “evaluator,” to render certain opinions about the case.
Rule 11 of the North Carolina Supreme Court’s Rules Implementing Settlement Procedures in Equitable Distribution and Other Family Financial Cases sets forth the procedure for conducting neutral evaluations in family financial matters. However, subject to the evaluator’s approval, the parties can modify the process to meet their specific needs.
As part of the process, each party has an opportunity (either orally or in writing) to summarily present his or her side of the case to the evaluator. After considering the facts, issues, and arguments made by each party, the evaluator will render an opinion on:
- the merits of the case;
- the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case;
- areas of agreement and disagreement;
- necessary and appropriate discovery;
- settlement possibilities; and
- potential outcomes if the case goes to trial
The evaluator’s suggested settlement or disposition of the case may be particularly beneficial to a party who is having difficulty committing to a settlement, or a party who is overly optimistic about the results that can be attained if the case goes to trial.
There are obvious benefits to participating in neutral evaluation. The opinions and observations of the evaluator provide each party with a unique opportunity to see their case from a different perspective. This may lead to more constructive settlement negotiations, enhance bargaining positions, or provide valuable insight that may be useful if the case goes to trial. The parties can choose neutral evaluation for a single issue, such as determining the date of separation, or for all issues in dispute.
Neutral evaluation typically occurs at an early stage in the case. Therefore it can significantly reduce the parties’ overall legal expenses by simplifying, shortening, and/or settling the litigation.
If you believe your family related legal matter would benefit from the opinions of an impartial third party, Howard L. Gum is available to serve as an evaluator in marital related contract disputes, and family financial matters involving child support, postseparation support, alimony, and/or equitable distribution.
Howard has been practicing law and serving clients throughout Western North Carolina since 1976. For nearly 40 years, he has devoted his practice exclusively to family law. Howard was among the first lawyers in the state to become a board certified specialist in family law when the North Carolina State Bar commenced certification in 1989. After decades of representing clients in matrimonial matters, Howard has the requisite skills to fairly evaluate cases and bring them to settlement. Howard’s years as a family law practitioner have cultivated his ability to see in the early stages of the case how the parties might achieve a fair resolution or how a judge might rule. These discerning attributes make him a preferred choice for serving as a neutral evaluator.