Robert L. Pomper steps in to give some advice about how to best prepare your client for a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator and Child Family Investigator.
Almost every Colorado family law practitioner has encountered contested parenting time and decision-making issues. In the vast majority of these cases, either a Child Family Investigator (CFI) or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (PRE) will be appointed. These experts investigate the matter, and then prepare a report with their opinions as to what is in the child’s best interest as contemplated under certain statutory factors, including the factors related to the best interest standard set forth in C.R.S. 14-10-124. If the dispute involves relocation or other issues, then other statutory factors will be considered, particularly C.R.S. 14-10-129, which incorporates the best interest standard. For the purposes of this blog, I will refer to these experts generically as PREs, but both types of experts are contemplated in this post.
While a PRE needs time and space to conduct their evaluation, an attorney is making a crucial miscalculation if he thinks his work related to parenting issues is basically suspended until the PRE report is completed. Most of the attorney’s work at this time – related to parenting time issues – should be focused on helping his client prepare for the evaluation. One of the first ways to help your client is to recognize and then help them address any emotions, including anger that could be overshadowing everything else, and could easily taint an evaluation. Often, even the best of parents get caught up in a cycle of anger and retaliation, and this could seriously hurt the client in the evaluation. The attorney needs to recognize this and help the client get the proper support, whether it’s through therapy, coaching, or some other means. Otherwise, a client may think the PRE interview is their opportunity to tell the PRE how horrible the other party is, etc. While it is fine for the client to address legitimate concerns during these interviews, this could easily snowball into what may appear as badmouthing the other party, which, as we practitioners know, more often than not will cast the party spewing forth these invectives in a negative light.
Another way to help a client navigate the PRE process is to focus on the actual facts of their case as applied to the relevant law. It is a good idea to review the relevant statutory factors with your client so they can begin to see the bigger picture of the case, which can help the client frame a coherent narrative and to see what facts, witnesses, and documents are relevant and tied to the case. This can help prevent rambling and going off topic, things that can make for a poor presentation. Educating your client with the law can also help them maintain focus in interviews, and help them decide which documents to produce and not overburden the PRE with unnecessary items. I have seen PREs get overwhelmed with paperwork and emails, and often the PRE just appears to stop reading which can negatively affect their report. It is up to the attorney to frame the case, as the other side is probably making the best case possible for their client’s position.
When it comes to interviewing witnesses, keep your client focused on the important questions. Does the witness prove something favorable that is a relevant factor? Is the witness credible? Could this witness hurt your client’s position? It is important to make sure the client does not overwhelm the PRE with too many witnesses, as it can quickly become counterproductive, dilute the impact, and unnecessarily increase the cost. Take the time to help your client organize the best witnesses in different categories – child’s therapist, child’s friend’s parents, school teachers, coaches, etc. – so the PRE can interview witnesses that can provide a wider picture of the child’s life.