What is a Child and Family Investigator and Why Do I Need One?
A Child and Family Investigator (“CFI”) is a court-appointed expert that investigates and makes recommendations to the court regarding how to allocate parental responsibilities in the best interest of the child or children. In other words, the CFI is a neutral third-party that the court appoints to provide an independent perspective on child-related issues in your case.
The court appoints the CFI upon the request of either parent or if the court is concerned by factual circumstances of your case, such as alcohol abuse or domestic violence. A CFI can be appointed in any divorce case, post-Decree parental responsibilities case, or unmarried parental responsibilities case. The appointed CFI is usually an attorney or mental health professional, so they will be familiar with the factors that the court must consider when making decisions in the best interest of the children.
The basic duties of the Child and Family Investigator are to:
- Investigate the parenting issues;
- Consider the best interests of the child factors provided in C.R.S. § 14-10-124;
- Recommend allocation of parental responsibilities; and
- File a formal written report of the recommendations with the court.
The court appoints the Child and Family Investigator and details the specific duties of the CFI by written Appointment Order. The CFI is only allowed to perform evaluations that are included in the Appointment Order. For example, the CFI cannot conduct Psychological, Drug, Alcohol, Polygraph, or other testing unless the testing is specifically included in the Appointment Order. One exception is that the CFI may conduct domestic violence screening, if the CFI is qualified to do so, without specific permission in the Appointment Order.
To ensure that a CFI is a neutral investigator, the Appointment Order will also require that the CFI reveal any familial, financial, or social relationship with anyone involved in the case. Before beginning any investigation, the CFI must provide a written disclosure of any conflicts of interest in the case. If you already know the CFI appointed to your case or believe that the CFI has a previous connection with anyone else involved in your case, you may object to the appointment of the CFI and request the appointment of a different CFI.
The Appointment Order will also address payment of the CFI fees. In Colorado, the maximum fee for the CFI investigation and report is $2,750 and the maximum fee for the CFI testimony (including preparation) is $500. Therefore, the CFI may not charge more than the maximum fees without permission from the court. In many cases, parents split the CFI fees equally. However, the court may order a parent who earns significantly more income to pay a higher portion of the CFI fees.
Once the Appointment Order and disclosure requirements are complete, the Child and Family Investigator begins the investigation. Consistent with the Appointment Order, the CFI gathers information and formulates recommendations concerning the best interest of the children. Because each family is unique, there is no regimented procedure that the CFI must follow. Instead, the type, scope, and extent of investigation will vary in order to investigate the issues in the best interest of the children.
During the investigation, you should expect to complete intake paperwork, provide information requested by the CFI, meet with the CFI, and discuss how you would like the parenting disputes in your case to be resolved. Also, keep in mind that there is a fine line between appropriately pointing out the other parent’s weaknesses and appearing too critical, or even unsupportive, of the other parent. The CFI is required to evaluate what is in the best interest of the children, rather than referee general complaints about your spouse, ex-spouse, or partner.
Upon completion of the investigation, the Child and Family Investigator must provide his or her recommendations in a clear, concise, and non-technical written Report. In general, the underlying information and Report are confidential and only the parties and the Court may receive a copy of the Report. However, CFIs are mandatory reporters of child abuse. Meaning that if the CFI believes that the parents’ conflict or interactions with the children are abusive, the CFI must report the abuse to law enforcement. As always, the children’s safety outweighs the parents’ privacy.
Often, the CFI Report assists parents in reaching a settlement based upon the recommendations of a neutral third-party. Additionally, if allowed by the Appointment Order, the CFI may discuss parenting resolutions with you at the end of the investigation.
If you do not reach agreements regarding parental responsibilities and you case proceeds to court, the court is not required to adopt the recommendations of the CFI. In a Permanent Orders Hearing, the CFI can be called as a witness by either parent and will be subject to cross-examination. Cross-examination topics may include appropriateness of investigation techniques, thoroughness of the investigation, accuracy of the Report, etc.
Regardless of the ultimate resolution of your case, the appointment of a Child and Family Investigator can be a low-cost option to provide the court with a neutral third-party perspective of your parenting concerns.
Written by Joanne Morando, Associate Attorney