The court may, upon the motion of either party or upon its own motion, appoint a neutral third person to serve the court as a Child & Family Investigator. The relevant statute is C.R.S. §14-10- 116.5 which can be found online at the LexisNexis website. The CFI must also comply with directives handed down from the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, specifically Chief Justice Directives (CJDs) 04-05 and 04-08. Those directives cover everything from how an investigation must be conducted to disciplinary procedures for a CFI. The CJDs are also available online.
The Role of a CFI
The CFI must investigate each matter pursuant to the order of appointment. That order will control the scope of the investigation and define when the report is due. The minimum ground that the investigation is required to cover is contained in C.R.S. § 14-10-124. This statute is commonly referred to as the “best interests” statute. It lists the factors a court, and thus a CFI, must consider for allocation of parental responsibilities including parenting time and decision-making. Relocation is another issue which frequently comes up, but it is only addressed if it is specified in the order of appointment.
A CFI performs a narrow, focused “investigation”. The individual performing such an investigation must be qualified by education and experience, have undergone background checks, participated in a specific 40 hour CFI training, and be on the Court approved list of CFIs for the specific county. The CFI may be a person with a mental health background or an attorney experienced in family law. In some counties lacking those sorts of resources, individuals performing the role of a CFI may be lay people who the court trusts due to their background and experience to conduct the investigation.
The Purpose of a CFI
The purpose of a CFI investigation is to provide information to the court which otherwise would be difficult or impossible for the court to obtain. It is a way to avoid lengthy, conflicting, and inconclusive testimony by friends and family of each party. Additionally it provides a way to bring input and perspective from the children into court without children testifying. Another distinct advantage is that the CFI can distill 10-20 hours of investigation acting as the eyes and ears of the court into a 10-15 page report which the judge can review, in advance of hearing, in relatively short order.
Benefits to the Court
Consider child hearsay for a moment. Having parents “fighting about” what the children want or what they have said is not a rewarding area of inquiry for any judge. Each parent is, even in the best case scenario, biased and emotional. Their reporting will often be colored and subject to harsh examination and credibility attacks. The option of bringing the children into the courtroom and placing them in middle of their parent’s battle is even less appealing to most family law professionals.
A CFI is a trained interviewer who can speak with the children in a comfortable setting such as their own home. The CFI is skilled in speaking with children to explore their thoughts and desires. Further, the CFI will try to ferret out what is influencing their words. The court can then be presented with a summary report. This can save hours of time in the courtroom. It is one way the law permits the children to be ”heard” while protecting them from being placed in the middle of the dispute by being in the courtroom. Also, if the children are involved in therapy, the CFI report provides a way to put relevant information obtained from the therapist or from review of certain records before the court. The CFI does this while protecting the children’s therapy records and maintaining their privilege.
The CFI Report
After completion of the investigation the CFI will provide a Report to the parties and the Court which contains the CFI’s recommendations, usually as to parenting time and decision making. The report will include information gleaned by the investigator and the investigator’s interpretation of the information as it is relevant to decisions the Court must make. It is important to remember that final decisions are made by the Court. While the CFI report contains recommendations, the Court considers the report in conjunction with all other evidence and in conformance with the law, including case law. Ultimately the court may or may not follow all recommendations made by the CFI.
As a safeguard to the parent’s due process rights each party is permitted to obtain a copy of the entire file of the CFI, subject to certain limitations, and are also permitted to put the CFI on the stand for cross-examination.
The Difference Between a CFI and a PRE
A distinct advance of a CFI over a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation (PRE), for many parties, is that the fees of the CFI are limited to $2,750. If a CFI is going to testify, an additional $500 can be authorized. In very limited cases such as an out-of-state case, the cap for CFI fees can be increased with judicial oversight. If the parents are indigent, there is a process by which they can apply for the state to pay the fees. The limitations placed on the scope of the investigation are not unreasonable, as there is another mechanism (a PRE) to address cases that require that deeper level of evaluation. The CFI must be efficient. To get the most out of the investigation carefully and promptly comply with the requests of the CFI and make every effort not to waste the CFI’s time.
CFI investigations and reports are a mainstay of highly contested disputes regarding children in Colorado. They put information before the Court in a clear and concise fashion so that the Court has valuable information to make rulings in the best interests of the children