What is a Parenting Investigation?

Parent reassuring child everything will be okay. Parenting investigations ND concept
When parents cannot reach an agreement, the court must make a decision as to parenting rights and responsibilities for them. Because a judge does not have in-depth knowledge of the family’s situation, a parenting investigator may be appointed to assist the court in making these decisions.

A parenting investigation, also called a parenting evaluation, can be intimidating to parents. It is important to remember that the goal of the investigation is not to criticize or advocate for either parent, but to help a judge make a decision that is in the best interests of the children. 

Understanding North Dakota Parenting Investigations

A parenting investigation is a court-ordered process, with specific rules, processes, and procedures. When the court needs additional information to determine residential responsibility, parenting time, and decision-making responsibility, the court may order an investigation. 

The investigator is a neutral party.  He or she does not represent either parent in any capacity.  A parenting investigator must have special training and qualifications . Many parenting investigators are attorneys, but as a neutral they do not and cannot advocate for one parent or the other. They also do not offer legal advice, but they may be able to direct parents to helpful resources and make recommendations. 

Parenting Investigation Process 

During the evaluation process, the investigator will separately interview each parent, any “collateral” third parties the parents deem important, review the legal pleadings and file, and may elect to interview the children. In all cases the parenting investigator will complete a home visit. The parenting investigator may also interview other people who know or have information about the family, such as teachers, day care providers, psychologists and counselors, police, social workers, and other family members. 

As a parent, you will be asked to sign releases so that the investigator can get access to records such as school and medical records. Depending on circumstances or the nature of a case, you may also be asked to submit to testing for psychological or substance issues.

The information given to an investigator is not confidential and it will likely be communicated to the court and the other parent. 

Best Interests of the Children 

Throughout the investigation, the parenting investigator must remain neutral and maintain focus on what is in the best interests of the children, as those factors are outlined in N.D.C.C. 14-09-06.2 The best interests of your children include their safety and security as well as a strong and loving relationship with both parents. One of the things the investigator will evaluate is your ability to support a positive relationship between your child and their other parent. 

Investigation Report

When the investigation is completed, the investigator will prepare a comprehensive report to provide to the court and to both parents. This report is not a ruling in your custody matter. Parenting investigation reports include recommendations to the court about how parenting responsibilities should be allocated between parents. The court pays attention to the report, but is not bound to follow the recommendation; the judge, not the parenting investigator,  makes the final decision. 

In many instances, the Court will adopt several but not all of the investigator’s recommendations.  In other instances, the Court will adopt most of the recommendations.  In still other cases, the Court will adopt few or little of the investigator’s recommendations.   

Preparing for a Parenting Investigation

If the Court appoints a parenting investigator in your case, it is important to remember that the parenting investigator's role is to help the Court identify how to best help you meet your children’s needs and to determine what type of court order will help meet those needs. 

It is in your interests to show up on time for appointments with the investigator, return phone calls and emails promptly, and be honest and straightforward in your answers to questions. You don’t need to prove that you are a perfect parent. In fact, admitting areas of struggle can show that you have insight and are willing to seek help for your children’s sake.

Parents’ Responsibilities Regarding Parenting Evaluations

As you might expect, parenting investigations take a fair amount of time and work. Parents are responsible for the cost of a parenting investigation, which can be up to several thousand dollars.  Sometimes, a parenting investigator’s report can  assist the parties in reaching a resolution that had evaded them to that point. 

Regardless, the parties will still be responsible for the expense incurred in the investigation before they notify the court an agreement has been reached 

Fremstad Law: Moving You Forward

An experienced family lawyer is an essential guide to this process, a skilled negotiator, and a strong advocate if a parenting investigation is ordered. Attorney Lesley Foss can help guide, advise, and assist clients through this sometimes challenging process and explain the applicability of the law and procedure to each client’s unique individual situation and set of circumstances. 

If you have further questions about parenting investigations in North Dakota, please contact Fremstad Law to schedule a consultation.