By: Jessica A. Saldin
Whenever there are custody issues in your family law case, one question to always consider is whether a CFI or PRE would help your case. Prior blog posts have explained what these individuals are and when they may be helpful. Once they are appointed to the case, though, it is natural to question what to expect after that appointment.
The very first step is to make sure the expert is made aware of their appointment- you need to make sure that someone sends the order of appointment to the expert. The court does not typically do this, so either you or the other party need to email the order over to the expert to make sure they are aware of the appointment. With the order, the expert also typically likes to receive any pleadings related to parenting time or the relevant issues (i.e., any prior orders, parenting plans, agreements, motions, responses, replies, etc.).
Within seven days of their appointment, these individuals must disclose whether they have any familial, financial or social relationships with any of the parties to the case, the attorneys on the case or the judicial officers on the case. Once you receive this disclosure, if the Child and Family Investigator or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator has disclosed any type of relationship, you have seven days to object to that expert on the basis of the information in the disclosure. If you do not object within seven days you have waived your ability to object to their appointment on the basis of that information. If you do object, the court will then decide if someone else should be appointed or if the information does not rise to the level of needing to remove the expert.
It is also important that you review the order of appointment and, if you are required to pay any portion of the expert’s retainer, that you get such paid by the date on the order. If an expert is appointed and not paid, failure to pay can be reported to the court and lead the court to enter sanctions against you.
The expert will often send out a packet of information. It typically includes their fee agreement, policies, as well as a questionnaire and releases. The questionnaire usually asks you for information about your background, the children, what you are requesting, etc. It is very important you fill out this questionnaire thoroughly and timely for the CFI. If you do not tell the CFI your requests, concerns, etc., you cannot later fault the CFI for not considering something they did not know. The CFI also typically gives releases for you to sign allowing the CFI to talk to any mental health professionals you have seen, the children have seen, as well as releases to talk to the children’s doctors and school professionals. It is advised that you cooperate in signing these disclosures, otherwise it may be a red flag to the CFI (it may come across as though you have something to hide). It is also advisable to consult with your child custody attorney regarding the content of any paperwork you fill out, as the expert’s file is discoverable and can be obtained and used by the opposing party.
The CFI will usually want to schedule an initial meeting just with you, and will also be scheduling the same meeting individually with the other parent. Often the CFI uses that time to get clarification from the questionnaire as well as more detail from you about what you are requesting of the court and why. My next blog post will go over do’s and don’ts to consider during this meeting with the CFI to make sure you are presenting yourself in the best manner possible. If you have an attorney, it is important to confer with your attorney prior to that first interaction with the CFI.
The CFI will then typically hold what are called parent-child interactionals. This is a time they schedule with you and your child(ren) to conduct an observation. Different CFIs conduct these in different ways- some go to the home and do the observation there, some have you come into the office into a play room with a three-way mirror, some meet in a neutral location. Regardless of where the observation occurs, the point is to simply get a sense of the relationship between you and your child(ren).
Some CFIs and PREs will do home visits, some will not do them unless a serious concern was raised about one parent’s household. Therefore, if you have serious concerns about the other parent’s house, it is important you include the concerns in your motion asking for a CFI or PRE and make it clear you are requesting a home visit. Additionally, most CFIs and PREs will talk to about 2-3 third parties if you give them the contact information- but not all CFIs think it is necessary or helpful. If you have a third party that you think will have helpful information for the CFI or PRE, it is important that you let them know and ask them the best way to provide the information. The CFI and PRE will also review supporting documents; however, it is important to keep in mind that the CFI, especially, is capped under the law at the number of hours they can spend on the case. Therefore, you don’t want to flood them with documents because they may simply not have the time to review all of them. It is better to focus on the key documents that are focused and on point with regards to your concerns. Finally, a PRE (not a CFI) will also conduct mental health testing.
Once the CFI/PRE has completed their investigation, they will draft a report that is filed with the Court and sent to the Parties- the report will summarize their investigation, findings, talk about the law applied, and then make the recommendations to the Court.