Top 5 Things to Know When Hiring a PRE or CFI

In Colorado divorce cases, there are two types of custody evaluations. One is prepared by a child and family investigator (“CFI”). The other is prepared by a parental responsibility evaluator (“PRE”). There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and it is crucial to consider the needs of the case before determining what sort of evaluation is best for your situation. Here are the top 5 things to consider when determining whether to retain a CFI versus a PRE.

1. The Scope of a PRE Investigation is Much Greater than a CFI Investigation

The purpose of a child and family investigation is to provide a brief assessment of the parties and their children. The process is supposed to be nonintrusive, efficient, and cost-effective (CJD 04-08). CFI investigations are governed by state law and are, by design, intended to be narrower in scope than a PRE investigation. See C.R.S. § 14-10-116.5. A CFI can investigate both parenting time and decision making; however, their role is actually intended to be focused on specific disputes between the parents. For example, a CFI could be tasked to investigate only decision making for the children and prepare a report and recommendations on that issue alone. For more information about CFI’s, take a look at the State of Colorado’s page that answers some frequently asked questions.

By contrast, a court appoints a PRE when a CFI cannot meet the specific needs of a case. For example, when a case involves a relocation request or when there are serious concerns about mental health, drug or alcohol use, and domestic abuse. In these sorts of complex cases, a PRE will often be better equipped to make recommendations. A PRE can also conduct psychological testing and has more time and resources to review materials and speak to more references and witnesses. PRE investigations are also governed by state law. See C.R.S. § 14-10-127.

2. The Cost of a PRE is Much Greater Than the Cost of a CFI

The cost will likely be one of the most important considerations for most parents when deciding whether to appoint a CFI versus a PRE. In general, PREs cost far more money than CFIs. This is because CFI’s have a presumptive maximum fee for the work they do. The fee is $2,750 per appointment. Trial preparation and testimony is also limited to $500 for CFIs. Because of these caps on the amount of fees that a CFI can charge, the cost for a CFI is ordinarily much lower than a PRE.

PREs are not subject to any statutory limit on their fees. Due to the thoroughness of the investigation, most PREs require substantial retainers ranging from $5,000 to $15,000. The complexity and scope of the evaluation factors into the fees, and some high conflict and complex evaluations can see total fees as high as $20,000 to $30,000. You should consider these costs in deciding whether to retain a CFI versus a PRE.

3. PREs and CFIs Often Have Different Qualifications

CFIs and PREs have different qualifications and training. A CFI may be an attorney, a mental health professional, or any other individual with appropriate training, qualifications, and an independent perspective acceptable to the court. C.R.S. § 14-10-116.5(2). Whether it is better to retain a CFI that is also an attorney or a CFI that is also a mental health professional depends on the circumstances of your case. Some cases may benefit from having an attorney/CFI instead of a mental health professional/CFI if there are more complex legal issues at play (and vice versa when there are more complex mental health issues at play).

PRE investigations can only be completed by a licensed mental health professional. A PRE will conduct psychological testing; so when there are severe mental health considerations at play, a PRE is often better equipped to address those concerns.

4. A PRE Investigation Takes Longer than a CFI Investigation

A CFI investigation can typically be completed in 60–90 days from the date the CFI is appointed. There are more professionals available to conduct CFI investigations than PRE investigations, which makes CFIs more available. Additionally, because CFI investigations are, by design, intended to be limited in scope, the investigation is generally more efficient and streamlined compared to a PRE.

A PRE investigation can take anywhere from 3–6 months, depending on the availability of the evaluator and the complexity of the issues. There are fewer professionals available to conduct PRE investigations due to the qualification requirements. Additionally, because PRE investigations are thorough and time-consuming, many PREs have to limit the number of cases they take on. PRE investigations often require more interviews, meetings, document review, and sometimes even require travel.

5. Each Type of Investigation Impacts the Children Differently

Before engaging in a custody evaluation (CFI or PRE), it is essential to consider the necessity of the evaluation and the potential impact on the children. Sometimes, the evaluation itself can have negative consequences and may not be in the best interest of the children. Children are often keenly aware of the conflict between the parents, and this conflict can be exacerbated by the custody-evaluation process. CFI investigations are intended to be less intrusive and, as a result, can have less impact on the children compared to a PRE, which requires a more thorough investigation.

That said, a CFI or PRE should be considered and appointed in high conflict cases where there are numerous disputes, and the parties are unable to resolve the parenting disputes without assistance from a professional.


Eliza Steinberg is a Shareholder at Griffiths Law. Eliza’s practice focuses exclusively on domestic relations matters including divorce, allocation of parental rights, post-decree disputes, and child support matters.