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So, you have children.  And you’re getting divorced.  Or you were never married, but you and your children’s other parent cannot agree on who should care for your children and when.  Your life as you know it is changing in almost every way imaginable.

On top of all this, you’ve been thrust into a world where everyone uses complicated language—like “notwithstanding the foregoing” or “I am herewith returning the stipulation to dismiss in the above entitled matter; the same being duly executed by me”—when simpler phrases like “regardless” or “I have signed and enclosed the stipulation to dismiss this case” would suffice.

We are here to simplify things.

APR – Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

Sometime after you or your children’s other parent opens a case in court, and before your case closes, you both will have to figure out how you want to divide custody and who makes decisions about your children. This is called the “allocation of parental responsibilities,” or APR.  To do that, you may need help from an outside party who is trained to analyze your situation and recommend solutions based on what’s best for your children. You can go about this in two different ways—by getting a CFI, which stands for “child and family investigator,” or a PRE, which means “parental responsibilities evaluator.”

Confused?  Don’t be.  We are about to explain the similarities, the differences, and when it’s best to use one over the other.

CFI – Child and Family Investigator

First, there’s the CFI. A CFI can be an attorney; a mental health professional; or any other person with who has the training, qualifications, and objectivity to assess the best interests of your children. Either you or the other parent can request a CFI through the court, which then decides whether one is necessary. If the court agrees that a CFI is appropriate, it will assign a specific CFI to you and describe the duties of the CFI based on your particular case. Usually, you and the other parent must split the costs of the CFI, but every case is different.

Once retained, the CFI will do basic research through interviews with you, the other parent, your children, and anyone else who would have insight into your situation. This includes other family members, teachers, friends, doctors, and therapists. The CFI can also visit the children’s home or homes, be required to testify in court, or attend conferences and hearings.

Because CFIs are less expensive than PREs, their duties are also more limited. As a result, CFIs are best for helping the court understand the basics of a family’s situation or for recommending solutions on very narrow issues—for instance, where a child should go to school or which therapist a child should see. Although your CFI will stay with your case until is it over, your CFI can only investigate the issue that the court originally specified. A CFI can, however, notify the parents and the courts of other possible concerns. At that point, either of the parents can request a PRE.

PRE – Parental Responsibilities Evaluator

A PRE may be better suited for complicated or volatile situations. Where a CFI cannot assess the mental health of you, the other parent, or your children or do an in-depth analysis of your overall situation, a PRE can. And while a CFI cannot investigate issues outside of the duties the court ordered, the court can order a PRE to do additional evaluations after the initial report. Also, unlike with a CFI, where the court decides whether or not to appoint a CFI, once a parent requests a PRE, the court must appoint one in most circumstances. Finally, a PRE must be a qualified (1) person from the court’s probation department, (2) person from any county’s or district’s social services department, or (3) licensed mental health professional. Generally, the party requesting the PRE bears the initial costs, but again, every case is different, and costs may be divided differently later in the case.

Once retained, A PRE will do an in-depth evaluation of your family and your situation—much like the CFI but even more involved.  Once the PRE completes a report and files it with the court, the PRE will no longer be involved with your case aside from possibly testifying at your hearings or if ordered to update the report. Except in limited circumstances, if one parent requests a completely different type of report, the court must assign a new PRE to conduct the evaluation.


Every case is different. What is best for you depends on the facts of your case and your resources. A good attorney can advise you of your options and recommend the best course of action. This article and the table below will help you understand what the heck that attorney is saying.

·      Court may appoint at the request of either parent or at its own discretion ·      Court must appoint upon request of either parent except under limited circumstances
·      Less expensive ·      More expensive
·      Duties can be broad or narrow but are basic and are specifically described in the court order ·      Duties are broad and in-depth
·      Costs usually shared by parties ·      Costs usually paid by party requesting evaluation
·      Can be an attorney; mental health professional; or other individual with appropriate training, qualifications, and an independent perspective ·      Can be by a qualified person from the court probation department, a qualified person from any county or district social services department, or certain licensed mental health professionals—not an attorney unless also a qualified, licensed mental health professional
·      Court cannot order to do supplemental investigations but can appoint a PRE to do them ·      Court can order a new PRE to do a supplemental investigation
·      Appointed until the end of your case and can be called as a witness by a party or the court and include in status conferences and hearings ·      Appointment only until evaluation completed and report filed unless called as witness by a party or otherwise ordered
·      Updates report throughout case and notify parents and court of additional issues ·      No report updates unless authorized by the court