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The End of the Special Advocate?

In July of 2005, the Governor signed into law a revised version of the statute that detailed the duties and responsibilities of “either [the] representative of the child or [the] special advocate.” The revision of the law separated the individuals appointed to those positions and gave them qualifications, duties, and responsibilities distinct from each other. Perhaps the boldest change was that the “special advocate” was removed from the statute and replaced with the Child and Family Investigator, or C.F.I.

Despite the name change from Special Advocate to C.F.I., the actual duties and responsibilities are very similar. The individual appointed as the C.F.I. in a domestic relations case is anyone with the appropriate training, including attorneys, mental health professionals, or others. The C.F.I., like the former Special Advocate, also investigates the best interests of the child as it relates to thed issues in the case, will write a report for the court, make recommendations, and can be called as a witness. The biggest distinction between the Special Advocate and the C.F.I. is that the C.F.I. must limit his or her investigation, recommendations, and report to issues specifically outlined by the court in the order appointing the C.F.I.

The “representative of the child” under the former C.R.S. § 14-10-116, still exists. However, the individual is now deemed the Legal Representative of the Child. This individual, unlike the former representative of the child or the special advocate, must be an attorney. Different from the new C.F.I., the Legal Representative of the Child participates in every aspect of a case for which the court appointed the individual. The Legal Representative of the Child does not file a report with the court and cannot testify as a witness.

While both the C.F.I. and the Legal Representative of the Child make investigations about the best interests of the child in an allocation of parental responsibilities case, it is important to remember that they do differ. Specifically, the Legal Representative can investigate any matters involving the best interests of the child and actually represents the best interests of the child. Whereas, the C.F.I. serves the court and can only investigate issues ordered by the court. Most importantly, the court may not appoint the same individual in any case to serve as the C.F.I. and Legal Representative of the Child.

In another law affecting the appointment of individuals in domestic relations cases, the legislature officially defined the duties and responsibilities of the Parenting Coordinator (PC, C.R.S. § 14-10-128.1) and created the position of the Decision Maker (DM, C.R.S. § 14-10-128.3). The duties of the PC are to assist the parties in a domestic relations case involving children by guiding the parties to make decisions together, to develop better communications skills, and to co-parent better together. The PC does not have any decision-making authority.

The DM is the individual who holds decision-making authority. The DM has authority to interpret and clarify prior court orders involving child support, parenting time, and specific disputed parental decisions. The court may appoint the same individual to serve as the PC and DM in a case. Further, a court may appoint a C.F.I. as the PC for post-decree purposes upon agreement by the parties. If this occurs, the PC may not thereafter serve in the capacity of C.F.I.

Both the PC and DM will only be appointed in post-decree matters and their appointment may not extend beyond two years. The parties must agree to the appointment of a PC, unless the court finds the appointment in the best interests of the child and makes specific findings necessary for an appointment. The DM, on the other hand, is only appointed when the parties consent.

The statute concerning the appointment of the C.F.I. and the Legal Representative took effect on July 1, 2005.

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If you are in need of a compassionate, skilled, and experienced Colorado family law attorney, The Harris Law Firm can help. If you have a legal question about a domestic relations issue, including divorce and the allocation of parental rights, please complete our contact form below. A member of our legal team will be in touch with you soon to arrange a private consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. Together we can find a resolution.
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