The Role of the “Expert Witness” in a Custody Case (Part 2 of 3)

Child Custody Evaluation By a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:

Using a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) or a Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE) in your custody case is a decision you should make with the guidance of your attorney. The CFI/PRE, allows in depth recommendations to be made to the Court regarding the parenting plan. The most positive aspect of having a CFI/PRE involved in your case is that if they are “on your side”—meaning they have made a recommendation favorable to your position–this can be persuasive evidence to the Court to rule in your favor. The CFI/PRE can also be of assistance as parenting disputes and other issues arise during the course of the litigation. Some CFIs and PREs will interact with the parents and their attorneys to help settle matters and diffuse disputes when necessary. A significant detriment to having a CFI/PRE involved in your case is that it is an extra expense (often $3500-$5000 additional cost at a minimum). Additionally, you will have someone very involved in your life history and behaviors and judging you for what you have done and predicting what you will probably do regarding your parenting skills and judgment. Also, if the recommendation is not in your favor, you now have a hurdle to overcome.

Interacting With The Child and Family Investigator / Parental Responsibility Evaluator During Your Child Custody Case

Your interaction with a CFI or PRE can be a delicate dance. Most likely, you want to present your most positive parenting skills and practices while also explaining why you—and not the other parent—is the better parent. Therefore, many parents go into the CFI/PRE evaluation ready to disparage the other parent—thinking this is the best way to show the expert who is the better parent. However, a major factor a CFI/PRE evaluates is how well you encourage love and affection for the other parent—in spite of your own anger or disappointment in your failed relationship. The CFI/PRE knows that children want to love both parents and do not want to be caught in the middle of conflict. The CFI/PRE cares about and is an advocate for your children, not for you. Therefore, it is important that you and your attorney discuss in depth how any negative information regarding the other parent will come to the attention of the CFI/PRE. Sometimes the divorce attorney communicates this negative information to the CFI/PRE, sometimes you must divulge the information and sometimes it is best to let it happen without your involvement. Communicating that you are “right” and the other parent is “wrong” is a huge mistake and often ends up conveying the opposite message. The decision on how to proceed and to convey your message to the PRE/CFI is best made with the experience and understanding and guidance of your attorney. You will have one chance to make the right impression. If an unfavorable impression results, you will have an uneven playing field and will likely end up with a mixed recommendation, at best.