What Should I Expect When Meeting With the Parental Responsibilities Evaluator?
When Colorado parents are going through a child custody battle and cannot agree on various issues, whether parenting time (visitation) or parental responsibilities (decision-making), there is the potential for the court to order either the appointment of a Child and Family Investigator pursuant to Colorado Revised Statutes, C.R.S. 14-10-116.5 or a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-127. CFI’s and PRE’s may be appointed upon motion from either party or by the court, on its own. Both are considered “custody experts” and may be appointed in cases where there are significant issues or disputes. Appointments can occur in both initial cases and modifications.
Over the last several years, courts have become more hesitant to just appoint an expert without some sort of underlying reason making them necessary. These reasons can be significant disputes regarding parenting time, one parent wishing to relocate with a child from Colorado, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, special needs of a child, whether medical, behavioral, or emotional, a child’s concerns tied into a parent and more. At the conclusion of any investigation, the expert will issue a written report to the court and parties which the court is extremely likely to follow, absent problems with quality, methodology, or sound conclusions.
Though CFI’s and PRE’s essentially serve the same function, a parental responsibilities evaluation is going to be more detailed and parties can expect a much more comprehensive, and perhaps invasive, process, coupled with a more thorough and detailed report. When going through a parental responsibilities evaluation it’s important to confer with your Denver child custody attorney prior to any interaction with the evaluator to make sure you understand the importance of the process, how to navigate through it, and what to do or not do when engaging the evaluator.
At the outset of the evaluation, you can expect the PRE to send out an informational packet and questionnaire. Beyond requesting statistical information, the questionnaires are generally going to contain an array of questions about the parents’ relationship, the child, their relationships with the child, their concerns and thoughts about the other parent, and their wishes regarding parenting time and decision-making. This questionnaire is highly important in that it is likely the first instances in the PRE will have to formulate opinions about you tied into the relevant issues. Your attorney will certainly be ready to advise you about how to phrase things, what to put down, etc. Generally it’s advisable to put together a draft for your attorney to review prior to submitting it to the PRE.
The next step will likely be a face to face meeting with the PRE. At this meeting you can expect to be asked questions about your case in general tied into parenting time or child custody, about your questionnaire, about your child, and about anything else the PRE thinks is relevant. When going into this first meeting you should certainly expect the PRE to be professional and attentive. This first meeting is your opportunity to not only tell your story to the PRE, but to also make a good impression. At Plog & Stein, our attorneys work hard to make sure our clients are thoroughly armed with information on the do’s and don’ts tied into this meeting in terms of how to present, what to say, and what not to say. As the PRE is evaluating your case, with the ultimate conclusion being a report, you should not expect the PRE to tip his or her hand as to what they are thinking or to let you know their general positions or thoughts as to the relevant issues. Most custody experts keep their initial impressions to themselves, knowing those impressions will come to light in the final report. You can expect multiple meetings along the way.
In most parental responsibilities evaluations, you can expect to undergo psychological testing for any issues or pathologies which could impact parenting time our your ability to make decisions or co-parent. This testing will often be the MMPI, sometimes a Rorschach testing, or other batteries of testing. These are not necessarily tests you can “prepare” for, but it is certainly advisable to do a little research on them. Ultimately, the PRE will analyze the testing data, which will be summarized in the report as relates to the child custody issues.
Another significant aspect of most parental responsibilities evaluations will be a home visit. With the home visit, the PRE will come to your home at a prearranged time to meet with both you and your child, watch you interact, and see how things go in a natural setting. The PRE may also require a monitored parent-child interactional session in his or her office, at which you will be asked to engage in various activities or tasks with your child. At this interactional you are being watched in terms of how your child responds to you, how you respond to the child, and your parenting in a general sense.
Some evaluators also like to see how the parents interact with each other and will often schedule a meeting with both of them. These meetings can often get tense, particularly in cases where there have been serious allegations or animosity. As with the individual meetings, how you interact with the other parent matters.
At the conclusion of the overall process, the report will be issued. Depending on the conclusions, one or both parties may need the PRE to testify in court.