The Role of the “Expert Witness” in a Custody Case (Part 1 of 3)

In Colorado, “custody” cases, also called “parental responsibility” or “parenting time” cases, sometimes require the use of an expert parenting evaluator. These “experts” are usually psychologists or therapists who have additional training and have been approved by the Colorado courts to provide recommendations regarding parenting plans and other “custody” matters. Parenting experts are most often used in higher conflict child child custody cases such as: when one parent is attempting to show that the other parent is unfit or less-fit than they or when one parent wishes to move away, taking the children away from the other parent.

What to Expect From an “Expert Evaluator” During Your Child Custody Case

The expert will evaluate you and the other parent through personal interviews and questionnaires, evaluate significant others and their interaction with your children, interview your children when appropriate, observe your living situation with a home visit paying particular attention to how you interact with your children and how well you encourage stability, a loving and calm environment, appropriate discipline and the encouraging of love and affection for the other parent—in spite of your own anger against the other parent. Having a Child and Family Investigator (“CFI”) or a Parental Responsibility Evaluator (“PRE”) appointed by the Court allows the expert to make recommendations to the Court regarding the parenting plan.

The CFI/PRE recommendations can weigh heavily in the Court’s decision. The Court need not accept the expert’s recommendation, though. The recommendation is just one more piece of evidence the Court must consider. Often the weight of an expert’s recommendation comes down to who the expert is—how well they are known and respected by the Court—and the practices of the judge. Some judges afford great weight to the opinion and recommendation of a CFI or PRE. Some judges do not afford much weight at all to the recommendation and this may be a factor of the judge’s personality and the reputation of the CFI/PRE or sometimes the facts of the case. It is important to explore with your attorney whether your case would benefit from a parenting expert; and, how your judge reacts to certain CFI/PRE recommendations and which CFI or PRE is appropriate for your specific case. Remember, the choice of a parenting expert for your case is an extremely important decision that you should make with an experienced family law attorney because the choice to use a parenting expert has significant consequences, risks and benefits.