When Colorado parents dispute over child custody and visitation, the judge may appoint a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) to make recommendations to the court. The CFI’s findings are crucial to the outcome of the custody case. If your parenting case has been appointed a CFI, or if you believe the court should appoint one, you need to know how the investigation is conducted and what can help secure your parental rights.
What is a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) in Colorado?
A Child and Family Investigator is a neutral, independent expert on child custody who gathers information and makes recommendations in disputed child custody or visitation cases. Under Colorado Revised Statutes 14-10-116.5, the CFI can be a child development expert, mental health professional, or even a lawyer who is “acceptable to the court.”
The judge or magistrate appoints a CFI in either of two scenarios: 1) if the court itself needs a clearer understanding of the family’s circumstances, or 2) if one parent convincingly requests the court to assign a CFI to the case. (We discuss how to get a CFI below.)
What does a CFI do in Colorado? How does a CFI conduct an investigation?
The main task of the Child and Family Investigator is to evaluate the family situation while ensuring the child’s best interests. The CFI will collect information on the disputing parties in relation to the child’s safety and wellbeing. If there are allegations of abuse, domestic violence, or child endangerment, the CFI will investigate those. If one parent alleges that they’re being alienated from their child, the CFI will examine that as well.
It’s also the CFI’s role to find out if the child has a preference regarding which parent they want to live with. Colorado Family Courts cannot admit a minor’s wishes as evidence unless they’re presented by an expert.
If a CFI has been assigned to your case, you can expect them to take investigative steps such as:
- Interviewing the parents, usually separately
- Interviewing the child
- Interviewing friends, relatives, and other persons in direct contact with the child and the parents
- Visiting the child at home and observing them in their regular activities
- Visiting the parents at home or their workplaces
- Doing background checks on the parents
- Obtaining any medical records, police reports, and other documents relevant to the case.
After the CFI concludes their investigation, they will write a detailed report to the court. This will contain their findings as well as their recommendations regarding the best arrangements for the child. The court may also subpoena the CFI if their courtroom testimony is needed.
What does a CFI look for in a home visit?
When a CFI visits your home for an observation, they will look for indicators that answer the main question: Will this home support the child’s best interests? While the “best interests” standard may be hard to define, there are some concrete qualities of the household that the CFI will take note of:
- The home’s cleanliness and upkeep
- Whether the child has their own space in the home, such as their own bedroom or bed
- Whether the child has a healthy routine involving home time, school, and recreation
- Whether the child has age-appropriate belongings in the home such as their own clothes, toiletries, and toys
- The interaction between the parent and the child
- The interaction between other adults in the house (if any) and the child
- Whether there is adequate and age-appropriate food
- Whether the child is exposed or has access to inappropriate media
- Whether the child is exposed to unhealthy or inappropriate activities such as smoking or drinking
- How the child is disciplined.
With this list, you get an idea of how to best prepare for a CFI’s home visit. You’ll want to show the evaluator that you’ve integrated the child as a valued part of your household, not just an extra person to live with. It’s also important to establish a genuine caring relationship with your child – this will show in your interactions that the investigator will observe.
How do I get a CFI in Colorado?
To get a CFI appointed to your case in Colorado, you must file a motion with the court requesting one. The court will look for a compelling reason to grant your CFI motion, therefore, you should compose your request in a way that emphasizes the need for a family investigation. A Family Law attorney can help you with the reasoning and wording of your motion to give it a better chance of getting approved by the court.
The other parent may or may not agree with your request to get a CFI, but they cannot stop you from filing your motion. They may, however, propose names as to who should be appointed CFI. The court often asks disputing parents to each list their own CFI suggestions, from which the court will choose whom to appoint.
How much does a CFI cost in Colorado?
CFI costs in Colorado vary by provider, but the Colorado Supreme Court capped the fees at $3,250 for the totality of a CFI’s work per case. Factors that affect an evaluator’s rate include the range of their investigation and their qualifications (all CFIs undergo training, but some have PhDs in psychology and the like). Additionally, the CFI may charge a $500 fee to appear at trial.
Who pays for a CFI in Colorado?
A CFI in Colorado is paid by one or both of the disputing parties, according to their agreement or, if they can’t agree, according to a court order. If any party cannot afford their share of CFI cost, they may show the court that they are “indigent” and ask for the court to pay their share.
What’s the difference between CFI versus PRE in Colorado?
A Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE) is another investigating professional dealing in child custody issues. The main difference between a CFI and a PRE is that the PRE must be a mental health provider and conduct a more intensive evaluation. Besides the typical investigative tasks, a Parental Responsibility Evaluator will perform a mental health assessment of one or both parties, which may involve psychological testing and drug testing.
Like with CFIs, you may request the court to appoint a PRE to your case. Note, however, that a PRE will cost more than a CFI. Some PREs have rates as high as $40,000. Because of this, PREs are generally more advisable in serious or egregious cases such as those involving sexual abuse, child abuse, or drug use. If you’re trying to decide between a PRE and a CFI, it’s best to get an attorney’s advice for your specific circumstances.
Call an Experienced Child Custody Attorney in Colorado
Goldman Law is trusted in Denver and Colorado Springs for cases involving child custody and visitation. With over 25 years of combined experience, our attorneys have a strong background advocating for the best interests of children while upholding parental rights. For this, the Goldman firm has earned top ratings in Family Law from professional associations as well as from Coloradan parents and families.
Talk to us if you have concerns about your CFI or child custody case in general. Call Goldman Law today at (303) 656-9529.