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CFI vs PRE: Which Child Custody Expert Is Right For You?

If you find yourself in the middle of a hotly contested child custody matter, you may be wondering if a custody expert is right for your case. High-conflict cases often require CFIs or PREs.   These experts can perform specialized investigations which attorneys, parties, and even judges cannot do themselves.  However, there are several different types of custody experts. The most commonly used experts are the Child and Family Investigators (“CFI”) and the Parental Responsibility Evaluator (“PRE”).  The custody expert you’ll want for your case will depend on the unique facts of your case.



A Child and Family Investigator is perhaps the most common type of child custody expert.  Widely used in both custody and divorce matters, a CFI is appointed to investigate and make recommendations as to the children’s best interests.  A CFI will make recommendations for both parenting time and decision-making.  A typical investigation involves:

  • Collecting data questionnaires from the parties,
  • Performing office and/or home visits,
  • Speaking to the children, and
  • Speaking to third parties, such as friends or relatives.  

However, a CFI is free to perform the investigation as he or she sees fit.  A CFI may use all or only some of the investigative steps listed above.  An important limitation of a CFI is that they cannot conduct psychological testing.  A CFI investigation typically takes about 60-90 days before a CFI Report is issued.  That report will detail their investigation and ultimately their recommendations as to parenting time and decision-making.  CFIs are widely used in initial divorce and custody matters, relocation cases, and modification cases.  The cost of a CFI’s investigation generally cannot exceed $2,750 (as of 2019).

CFI Qualifications

A CFI plays a serious role in a divorce or custody case once called upon for assistance. Their job is not to be taken lightly. For this reason, Colorado CFI’s are required to complete an affidavit for eligibility, pass a background check, and complete the mandatory training. Qualified individuals are listed on the Colorado Judicial Branch page along with their respective counties.

California refers to CFIs as Child Custody Investigators, which provide the same services. The state court’s judicial branch has additional information listed on their court website with a list of required training and experience. In California, court-connected child custody investigators require:

  • 40 hours of training before appointment
  • 16 hours of advanced domestic violence training within a 12-month period
  • 4 hours of domestic violence update training each year
  • 8 hours of continuing education each year

In Texas,  A Child Custody Evaluator is the person who conducts an evaluation ordered by a court whereby the court can obtain information, opinions, recommendations, and answers to specific questions regarding conservatorship of a child including the conditions of possession of or access to a child or any other issue affecting the best interest of the child.  Some of the things included in a child custody evaluation are:

1. Personal interview of each party seeking conservatorship, possession, or access to the child; 

2. Developmentally appropriate interviews of the child or children during a period of possession of each party but outside the presence of that party; 

3. Observations of each child regardless of age in the presence of each party to the suit; 4. Observations and interviews of each child who is not a subject to the suit but lives on a full-time basis in a residence that is the subject of the evaluation; 

5. Collateral Sources – obtaining information from relevant school records, physical and mental health records of each party and each child, relevant records of the Department of Protective Family Services, the criminal history of the child and each person who lives with the child, and the parties; and  

6. An assessment of the relationship between each child and party seeking possession of or access to the child.  


A Parental Responsibility Evaluator is another type of child custody expert.  A PRE is a mental health professional who focuses on determining appropriate parenting time and/or decision-making in matters.  These matters may involve unique concerns, such as substance abuse issues, mental health concerns, or sexual misconduct.  A PRE may perform psychological testing and typically issues a more detailed report than a CFI.  

In addition to psychological testing, a PRE will also utilize many of the same investigative steps as a CFI – data questionnaires, office and/or home visits, interviews with the children and third parties, etc. The costs of a PRE will typically exceed that of a CFI.  Many retainers exceed $5,000.  

Parental Responsibility Evaluator FYIs

  • On average, the PRE process takes about 90 days to complete
  • Parents will be observed with the child, individually as to determine parent-child dynamics
  • Interviews will be conducted with the child (if they are old enough) and anyone with information regarding the child
  • The PRE is required to submit a report with their findings to the court 20 days before the hearing

PRE Evaluation Determines:

  • Parenting rights
  • Visitation and custody
  • The need for therapy for the family or individuals within the family
  • How parents should handle conflicts going forward

A re-evaluation is an option if either party is dissatisfied with the results. The parent requesting this re-evaluation will be responsible for the cost. Re-evaluation may be refused if:

  • The evaluation is being used to harass the other party
  • The parent is trying to delay the case
  • A second evaluation will not aid the court in finalizing the custody order

Determining Which is Right

Though these two custody experts play slightly different roles, their end goal is always the same: recommend a parenting plan that is in your child’s best interests. Deciding which custody expert is right for you is an important step in a contested custody matter.  If you find yourself in this situation, it is best to begin working with an attorney. Call our family law attorneys at Modern Family Law for your free and confidential consultation today. 

Modern Family Law

Modern Family Law’s team of experienced family law attorneys takes a compassionate approach to the practice of family law. Using innovative technology to create an effective and efficient process for our clientele, our attorneys approach each case as a collective effort to find the best long-term solutions for each family. Our attorneys currently practice in Colorado, California, and Texas. Click the following link to view all of our family law locations. For more information please give us a call or fill out a short form online to sign up for a free consultation today! Let us make a positive difference in your life.

By: MFL Team

Posted August 28, 2023

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