Either parent can request a CFI, who will talk with the parents and the children, observe the parents with the children and, if time permits, interview references, teachers, day care providers or other individuals who have had experience with the family. Most of the time, the parents are ordered by the Court to divide the expense of the CFI, which generally is $2,000, although it may be more than this amount (it almost never is less). A CFI will generally make recommendations to the Court on parenting time, decision making, mental health counseling for children or parents, and even such issues as choice of schools or extracurricular activities.
In a few cases, the Court also may order a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation ("PRE"), which is usually a more in-depth examination of the parents and may include psychological testing of both parents. Generally, as part of a PRE, a Court will require both parents to undergo the same series of tests, usually administered by a psychologist. The cost of a PRE is likely to be much higher than the expense of a CFI, probably at least $4,000 to $5,000, not counting any fees for the investigator or evaluator to testify in Court.
Tips for parents who are involved in either a CFI or a PRE process:
--Prior to meeting with the CFI or the PRE the first time, meet with your attorney (or if you are representing yourself, have a meeting with an attorney) to help you prepare for the process.
--Don't waste the limited time you have with the evaluator bad mouthing your spouse. Use the time to talk about your own strengths and about your children's needs, with the emphasis on the best interest of your children.
--Try to speak positively about your spouse. Even though you are getting divorced, at one time you thought enough of your husband or wife to either marry him or her or to have a child together. If your spouse or the other parent is a horrible rotten person, that doesn't say much about your ability to make good decisions.
--Take some responsibility for the failure of the marriage. It is never one spouse's sole responsibility. You will come across as more introspective and able to accept responsibility for your own failings if you acknowledge that it was at least partially due to mistakes you made.
--Be on time.
--Be responsible and responsive. When the CFI or the PRE calls you, return the calls promptly. If he or she asks you to sign a release (for example, a release permitting the CFI or PRE to talk with teachers or counselors), you are certainly within your rights to ask to have your attorney look at the release. But, in the end, you are probably going to decide to sign the release, so take care of the request as quickly as you can. Don’t slow down the process by unnecessarily delaying.
--If you are asked to furnish the names of people who know about your parenting capabilities, or who know your family, ask their permission before giving them as a reference or a knowledgeable person. Ask them what they would tell a CFI or PRE. Obviously, you do not want to furnish the name of anyone who you think may speak negatively about you and your parenting capabilities.
--Be organized. Go in with a list of issues and questions for your first meeting. Keep a list of things you need to take care of in gathering information for the investigator or evaluator. Be prepared to articulate what you would like to have happen. For example, be ready to state what you think would be the best schedule for your children.
--Don't ever say that you want a particular schedule so you can either increase the child support that you receive or decrease the other side's child support. It will make you look bad.
--Don't complain about their process. If you have reservations, talk to your own attorney or get an appointment with an attorney who can advise you about how to handle your concerns.
--Be polite at all times.
It can be extremely stressful to go through the process of an investigation or evaluation. If parents follow these tips, and prepare properly for the process, it likely will go better and be less anxiety producing.
By Doris B. Truhlar