How to Prepare for SENE in Minnesota
Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE) is often used to resolve child custody and parenting time issues. Each parent is initially given 20-30 minutes to present information to the evaluators. This guide will help you organize and focus your presentation to make the biggest impact.
Background InformationBring pictures of your child(ren) to share with the evaluators. Remember that the focus is on what is best for your kids. If you are asked to present first (usually if you are the one who started the custody or divorce action), provide a brief history of your relationship with the other parent, when your kids were born, and a description of each child. Try to bring each child to life for the evaluators - what characteristics make them unique, what makes them happy, do they have any special needs, etc.?
If you are the second person to present, you can provide your own perspective on the relationship history if necessary, but don't repeat the facts if you agree with the other parent's summary. Add your own description of your kids or affirm the other parent's description of them.
Your ParentingDescribe how you parent your children. Be sure to include the "everyday" parenting tasks that are often taken for granted. Did you feed, diaper, and bathe your children as babies? Do you make sure they get on the school bus? Do you attend doctor appointments and parent teacher conferences? If you do not see your children often, describe your interactions when you are together.
Talk about your parenting style. How do you show your children affection and love? How do you discipline them?
Describe how your kids are involved in their community. Do they participate in any sports, extra-curricular activities, or volunteer organizations? If religion is an important part of your lives, describe any regular attendance at a house of worship or traditions you would like to continue.
Their ParentingFind at least one positive thing to say about the other parent. The evaluators take into consideration how well the two of you are able to communicate and support each other as co-parents. Sometimes it is difficult to praise the other parent in the midst of conflict, but think of how you can encourage your kids' relationship with them. For example, you could say, "Our son really enjoys reading a book with Mom before bed" or "Dad always makes a point of going to our daughter's basketball practices."
If you have any concerns about the other parent's ability to parent, raise the issue in a respectful, considerate manner. Speak directly to the evaluators rather than to the other parent. Avoid inflammatory language and stick to the facts. Make sure your comments are relevant to parenting and not general complaints about the other parent.
If you are the second person to present, do not use your initial 20-30 minutes to simply respond to the other parent. Instead, pretend that you are presenting first.
Special Considerations - Physical, Mental, Chemical HealthWhen addressing physical, mental, or chemical health issues of the other parent, make sure to describe your concern as it affects the child's safety or well-being. It is helpful to provide a couple examples to illustrate your concern. If you have physical, mental, or chemical health issues that affect your children, it is usually best to be upfront about the issue and to describe the steps you are taking to address it (i.e. consistently attending AA meetings or individual therapy, complying with prescribed medication, etc.)
Special Considerations - Third PartiesSometimes third party involvement is an issue in custody and parenting time cases. This could be a new significant other or an influential grandparent, for example. If you have concerns that a third party is overly involved or poses a safety risk for the child, raise that topic in your presentation. You may also want to mention any particularly positive relationships between your children and extended family or close friends and how you intend to support those relationships going forward.
Special Considerations - RelocationReaching settlement can be difficult when one or both parties wants to relocate. If you are thinking about moving a significant distance, provide an explanation of why the move is in your children's best interests. Carefully consider how it will impact their adjustment to home, school and community. Propose a creative, workable solution that will maximize quality parenting time and minimize travel for the children.
Special Considerations - Domestic AbuseIf domestic abuse has occurred but you are still comfortable attending SENE and being in the same room as the other parent, describe the history and context of the domestic abuse. You should focus on how the abuse impacts your ability to co-parent as well as any effect it has had on the children. Was an Order for Protection issued? Did the children witness or suffer any abuse? Are there ongoing safety concerns?
ProposalFinally, you will want to come to the table with a clear proposal for custody and parenting time. Be specific about the schedule you believe will benefit your kids the most, and try to maximize the time with each parent as appropriate. Depending on the children's ages or other special circumstances, you may suggest a schedule that gradually increases parenting time. Don't forget to address holidays, vacation time, and other special event days in your proposal.
Your proposal should first and foremost be mindful of your kids' needs. However, you will also want to make sure that it is realistic and workable for both parents. Take into consideration your respective work schedules, the kids' schedules, and how flexible you and the other parent can be. The more thought you put into your proposal ahead of time, the more productive the SENE will be.