Pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-127, the Court may appoint an expert to conduct a parental responsibilities evaluation (PRE) which, as the name suggests, is a comprehensive parenting/custody evaluation. (This contrasts to a Child & Family Investigator (CFI), which is intended for a quick and inexpensive investigation of specific issues).
A PRE is typically used in higher-conflict custody cases, or where there are multiple issues which need investigating. Either party can request that one be appointed, or, less commonly, the Court may, on its own, direct that one be appointed.
Legal Standard to Appoint PRE
C.R.S. 14-10-127 states that a Court "shall, upon motion of either party or upon its own motion, order the court probation department, any county or district social services department, or a licensed mental health professional qualified pursuant to subsection (4) of this section to perform an evaluation and file a written report concerning the disputed issues relating to the allocation of parental responsibilities for the child, unless such motion by either party is made for the purposes of delaying the proceedings."
While it appears from this language that Courts have very little discretion to reject the appointment of a PRE, the motion seeking the appointment must comply with the Court's case management order. So if a case has been pending for months, but a parent waits until the week, or even the month, before a hearing to request that a parental responsibilities evaluator be appointed, that request may well be denied.
Payment of PRE
C.R.S. 14-10-127(1) provides that the Court may order the reasonable charge for the evaluation to be assessed between the parties, although many judges will require the party requesting the appointment to pay initially, subject to allocation at a later hearing.
Costs depend upon the complexity of the case, who conducts the evaluation, and whether psychological evaluations are conducted. In El Paso County, one would typically pay about $3500 to $5500 for a parenting responsibilities evaluation.
Who Can Serve as a PRE
The PRE must be a licensed mental health professional - this is a more restrictive requirement than that required to serve as a CFI, so not all CFIs would be qualified to serve as a PRE.
Furthermore, pursuant to C.R.S 14-10-127(4), the PRE must be qualified as competent by training an experience in such areas as the effects of divorce & remarriage on children, appropriate parenting techniques, child development, psychology, etc.
The PRE Process
A typical PRE takes about 90 days to complete, and the actual process depends upon the policies of the specific PRE. By law, the PRE may consult anyone with information about the child, and refer the child to other professionals for diagnosis.
A PRE will typically meet with both parties individually at the outset, talk about the case, and give them questionnaires for the party and his/her collateral contacts (family members, teachers, day care providers, etc) to complete. The PRE will also meet with each party together with the child to observe parent-child interaction, and except with real young children, meet with the child individually.
Some PREs may do home visits, others may not unless there are concerns about a parent's home. Some PREs will talk to collateral contacts personally, whereas others will simply review the questionnaires. The PRE may review academic, medical, or therapy records, should they be relevant to the case, or recommend professional intervention, such as therapy.
A written report of the evaluation is due to the Court and parties at least 20 days before the hearing, and should include a description of the procedure, the data collected, a conclusion explaining how the recommendations were reached, and the actual recommendations.
The PRE may be called as a witness to testify at a hearing as to the evaluation.
Supplemental Parental Responsibilities Evaluation
A party who is dissatisfied with the initial evaluation may request that the Court appoint someone with the requisite qualifications to perform a supplemental evaluation, at that party's expense. The Court shall not order a supplemental evaluation, however, if any of the following applies:
- The motion is for the purpose of delay.
- A party objects, and that party or the child has a physical or mental condition which would make the supplemental evaluation harmful to that person.
- The purpose of the motion is to harass the other party.
- The moving party did not cooperate with the first investigation.
- The weight of the evidence other than the evaluation demonstrates that a second evaluation would not benefit the Court in determining the issues, or
- There has already been both a CFI investigation and a parental responsibilities evaluation conducted.
Conflict of Interest
In 2012, the Colorado Assembly enacted S.B. 12-56, which amended C.R.S. 14-10-127 to require that a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (as well as other parenting professionals), within 7 days of appointment, provide the parties, counsel and court with a disclosure of the nature of any familial, social, or financial relationship with a party, counsel, or judge.
The court may then, on its own, terminate the appointment, or either party may file an objection to the appointment within 7 days (or the objection is waived), and the court then has 7 additional days to confirm or terminate the appointment.
It is unclear what resulted in this legislation. In El Paso County, counsel and parenting professionals generally know each other fairly well, work together on a number of cases, attend similar conferences, etc. But those are normal professional relationships that would likely not trigger the disclosure requirement.
Finally, note that this obligation only applies to appointments after July 1, 2012.