Child and Family Investigators clause in reform bill draws fire from legal lobby

hou44.jpg
Chris Holbert.
Figuring some modest improvement is better than none, the Colorado House Judiciary Committee passed along a bill yesterday that's intended to make child and family investigators (CFI) and other professionals operating in family court more accountable -- after first amending and watering down its most significant measures, which had been heavily opposed by the Colorado Bar Association and other groups with a stake in maintaining the status quo.

Parental rights groups have long maintained that Colorado's family court system gives too much power to CFIs, several of whom are regarded as "hired guns" who charge excessive fees for custody evaluations and have demonstrated a pattern of bias -- toward fathers or mothers or certain attorneys or whoever is paying their bill. A major turning point in the battle came in last year's legislative session, when the parental groups managed to obtain a cap on fees for CFIs and strip them of immunity from oversight by state regulators.

Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Senator Morgan Carroll and Representative Chris Holbert, would have taken the campaign a step further, requiring CFIs and other court-appointed professionals to disclose potential conflicts of interest in a given case -- something that the professionals are already supposed to be doing, under standards established by the Colorado judiciary. But the bill would also have allowed judges to decide if a full-blown Parental Responsibility Evalaution (PRE), to be conducted by a mental-health professional, is needed in the case. As it stands now, the expensive evaluations are automatic if either party requests it, leading to stories of litigants using the process to impoverish and intimidate an ex-spouse.

Sponsor Holbert testified that he'd heard too many stories of the system being manipulated in his "neck of the woods" -- the 18th Judicial District, encompassing populous Arapahoe and Douglas counties -- to ignore them. "We seem to have an environment where people aren't innocent until proven guilty. They're just guilty," he said. "I think that's intolerable."

But the notion of making a PRE discretionary didn't sit well with the Colorado bar -- or the evaluators themselves. "You're creating another issue to fight about," warned Jerremy Ramp of the CBA's family law section, who suggested that judges would now have to hold hearings to determine if a PRE was necessary or not. (The Colorado judicial branch's own analysis of the bill suggested it would have no real impact on costs.)

Also opposing the measure was psychologist Kevin Albert, who testified that he worked as a CFI until the changes in the law last year. "At this point in time all I do are PREs," he said. But that didn't make him a "hired gun," he added. The vast majority of custody disputes settle before trial, and changing the PRE process in high-conflict cases would, in his view, only encourage more litigation.

Albert insisted that his colleagues generally act "in the best interest of the child." (It's a principle he's had to defend in difficult circumstances; he made headlines briefly twelve years ago for having treated Eric Harris, one of the Columbine killers, and then refusing after the shootings to turn over records to Harris's parents, citing patient confidentiality.) But in the six months since the judiciary has implemented a new complaint process for mental-health professionals acting as CFIs, the system has fielded around ten complaints and removed at least three people from further family court appointments.

The distressed parents who testified in support of the original bill insisted that the PRE is overused and can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of hammering out parenting time. They described the evaluators, like the CFIs, as a "clique" and "court-appointed whores" who fail to disclose that they often work for the same attorneys to achieve similar results. Their anecdotal horror stories, though, failed to persuade the committee to buck the professionals; the bill survived, but only after the clause about judicial discretion on the evaluations was removed.

"The Colorado bar lobbied so heavily that the outcome was predetermined," says Janice Whitaker, a member of the grassroots group Parents United for Change. "But I think we raised awareness that there are issues with PREs not having any standards of practice or specific areas of training, like is now required with the CFIs. There's much more oversight now for a CFI doing a $2,000 evaluation than there is for a PRE doing a $20,000 evaluation. I think the legislature understands that now."

More from our News archive: "Catherine Keske, CSU prof, ordered back to jail in parenting dispute over e-mail."

My Voice Nation Help
9 comments
nowadays
nowadays

I am looking for an attorney who will stand up to our CFI and his BS Report.

nowadays
nowadays

Yes the entire Family Law System is the biggest joke I have ever seen.

eyekickbootie
eyekickbootie

The entire Family Law system in Colorado is corrupt beyond comprehension.  The CFI's, mediators, lawyers and judges form a racket with one goal:  extract the maximum amount of money out of the two parties in the divorce.  At no point does the welfare of the children or the divorcing parties factor into the equation.   

 

Even when no children are involved, the laws are designed to get the two people divorcing to fight over alimony, property and possession. We need some CONCRETE guidelines and limits so that people going into a divorce have SOME idea what the outcome may be.  Today, the shark lawyers move in and promise each party they will win the maximum, then, when the court date nears, they inject the fear and uncertainty of the judge's decision into the situation and literally force the two parties to settle.  

 

We need a ballot initiative to force these issues, since the Colorado legislature is obviously controlled by the Colorado Bar Association.   

Michelle
Michelle

They need to prohibit lawyers from doing anything related to CFI and only allow ethical, experienced mental health professionals to do the testing and evaluations--once lawyers get involved they have no qualms about bankrupting people to fill their own pockets.

Bias creates more problems
Bias creates more problems

Most people have no idea about Colorado's divorce system unless they have been involved in a contentious divorce.  Colorado's system and the professionals that profit from it, promote conflict in order to create more billing hours.  Much has to change.  Amazingly, CFI's had complete immunity until last year.  Now they simply change the name for the exact same services and call them a PRE.  The PREs need a cap and do not need immunity.  The judges having immunity is bad enough.  From looking outside of the system, you would not think that the professionals and courts could have bias but let me assure you they do.  We the people need protection from when bias comes to play.  I have paid $30k in CFI fees and without substantiating a single claim my ex made against me, the CFI recommended that I have reduced time with my two boys.  The system is corrupt and caps have to be put in place and no one should have immunity.

Rbrownbroker
Rbrownbroker

If Kevin Albert, Eric Harris's Psychologist, is involved, this must be a real con-game or joke.How can anything Albert is involved in be valuable, after his failure with the mass murderer Eric Harris from Columbine?

Now Trending

Around The Web

From the Vault

 

Loading...