What Is a Child-And-Family Investigator and Do I Need One for My Case?
A Child and Family Investigator is a child custody expert, appointed pursuant to Colorado Revised Statutes 14-10-116.5. The general function of the child and family Investigator, commonly called “CFI” by child custody attorneys, courts, and in the family law community, is to investigate relevant issues tied into the the best interests of children in a domestic relations case as relates to both parental responsibilities (major decision-making) and parenting time (visitation).
A CFI can be appointed upon a motion filed by either party to a case involving the custody of children, or by the court based on the its own perception of the issues and what may be needed to give the judge a clear picture regarding a family and the best interest of a child. Going back several years, Denver area family law judges would routinely appoint CFI’s should either party request one. Today, having a CFI when parenting time or decision-making are at issue is not a given. Rather, courts want to see a specific reason, or reasons, as to why the CFI is needed.
Generally, reasons for having a CFI must be stated in the motion for appointment as more than just the parents disagreeing about parenting time. If there are issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, child abuse, medical problems, complex educational needs, etc., a court will be more likely to appoint such and expert. In cases of the plain dispute regarding visitation, or decision-making, your attorney will now how to word the request for the CFI such that the court is more apt to appoint one. Another major reason a CFI may be needed (and appointed) is to make sure that a child’s wishes and concerns related to parenting time are heard. The statements of a child are normally “hearsay” and are not going to be heard by the judge unless presented through an expert such as a CFI.
Currently, most Judicial Districts maintain lists of the pool of potential CFI’s parties might choose from in that specific judicial district. Given the capping of fees that a CFI can now charge, to be discussed below, the general pool of CFI’s has become smaller and smaller, and is comprised of more attorneys than mental health professionals.
Pursuant to a recent Colorado Supreme Court Chief Judge’s Directive, the cost for a CFI is normally capped at $2750 for the aggregate of the work to be performed. Prior to a cap being imposed in 2011, the range of people serving as CFI’s varied, but included a significant number of mental health professionals, including psychologists with Ph.d’s. Costs could range from a few hundred dollars to over $10,000. Today, a majority of the CFI’s are attorneys, with specific training. Though the capping of costs is certainly advantageous in a financial sense, the investigations and reports to be done may not be as thorough, detailed, or extensive as they were in the past. This includes CFI’s not being able to conduct psychological testing, something they could formerly do. If your case contains significant issues requiring a more thorough analysis you may need to seek a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-127.
Selecting the right child custody expert can make all the difference when it comes time to litigate, or settle, the child custody aspects of your case. Courts are generally going to be extremely likely to follow the recommendations of the CFI’s report, absent some sort of malfeasance. Child custody attorneys know this, which often times prompts settlement prior to trial. If you are facing a custody or visitation battle you should consult with your attorney about the potential need for a CFI in your case.