What is a CFI?

By Kathryn Bright

What in the world is a CFI? To someone in the throes of divorce, a CFI — Child and Family Investigation — might seem more like a CSI – Crime Scene Investigation. Why ever would you want to subject yourself to having some stranger probe into your parenting style and your personality at your lowest point in recent history? Interview your children? Interrogate your friends, family, even your therapist? Then write a report for lawyers, the judge, and worst of all, your former partner to read?!

For your kids’ sake, that’s why. Because you love your children and want only what’s best for them. Your trust in the other parent to make good decisions for the children has eroded, if it was ever there to begin with. The effects of the break-up of your family may have been so devastating to you personally that you don’t even trust your own ability to make good decisions at the moment. And yet, the pressure is on. Decisions must be made. And soon.

As an involved, loving parent you worry about your children’s future. You know they are struggling to accept the breakup of your marriage, the loss of their family. You want to help them get through this difficult time in their lives as unscathed as possible. You know that you are having a hard time dealing with this loss, and you sense that their other parent is, too. Even the best of lawyers haven’t been able to help you reach important agreements regarding the children. Perhaps, you and “He/She Who Shall Not Be Named” had difficultly making decisions even in the best of times, and that’s become torturous now that your marriage has fallen apart. And, finally, perhaps you are simply open to learning more about yourself so that you can improve your own parenting abilities.

One way to accomplish all of the above is by submitting to the CFI process. CFIs, usually lawyers or mental health professionals, receive specialized training to recognize the importance of those painful decisions. A CFI must first be approved and appointed by the court to assist you. Once appointed, the CFI will interview you and the other parent alone, and maybe together, observe both parents interacting with the children, and talk to significant people in the children’s lives, such as their teachers, coaches, grandparents, counselors, pastors, rabbis, or others who care about them and might have some insights into their needs and interests.

Using a combination of intuition and training, the CFI will write their observations in a report which is filed with the court and provided to the parents and their attorneys. The report will contain recommendations concerning parental responsibilities, how major decisions will be made for the children once the divorce is final, where the children’s primary residence will be, and how much regular parenting time both parents will spend with the children. The CFI might also recommend individual therapy for the children or parents; family therapy; substance abuse monitoring; and/or parenting classes. In some situations where one parent has serious mental health, addiction or abuse issues, the CFI might recommend only supervised parenting time with that parent. The hardest decisions often include whether a parent may move out of state with the children, which inevitably limits the other parent’s regular contact with the children.

Often after reading a CFI report, the parties are able to reach agreements without further court involvement, which can save them time, money and further heartache. If the case must go to court, the judge can make a more informed decision with the assistance of a CFI’s report and testimony at the hearing.

The ultimate benefit of having a CFI appointed is the chance to turn the focus away from the “crime scene” and back onto the children. Once broken apart, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” usually can’t put the family back together again, at least not as it was before. But, a CFI just might be able to help both parents discover useful, often more effective, ways to meet their children’s needs and best interests.

When to use a CFI