A social study can be a pretty invasive process. You are asked to speak to a stranger about your strengths and weaknesses as a parent. You are invited to turn over a list of references of people in your life to the social study evaluator. These references will then write a letter to the evaluator to discuss their personal experiences with you as a parent of your child. On top of this, the evaluator will come into your house to take a look at things and see how you relate to your child.
Suffice it to say that this can be uncomfortable, but if you are involved in a family law case where custody of your child is contested, a social study will likely be a part of that process. Your social study evaluator is trying to help the judge decide which parent should be named as the primary conservator of your child. To help them get a better idea about all the work that went into completing the social study, the evaluator will create a report that synthesizes the collected information. Most importantly, the report will contain a recommendation made by the evaluator that names the parent who is best suited in their opinion to care for the child on a primary basis.
Today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, will focus on this report. Suppose your goal is to do everything you can to win the primary conservatorship of your child. In that case, you will need to know what a social study evaluator is looking for and how they will communicate those factors to a judge.
What is required of a social study report in your child custody case?
The Texas Family Code requires that specific steps be completed within a social study report. First and foremost, you and your opposing party must be interviewed as a part of the social study. The interview and its contents will be detailed in the report. If your child is at least four years old, they will also be interviewed. The questions asked of your fourteen-year-old child will be different from those of your four-year-old child, but the evaluator will interview children who are at least four.
On top of being interviewed, your child will be observed in your home interacting with you and anyone else that lives with you. Your child will also be kept in their other parent's house to give the evaluator a good perspective as to how they react to different stimuli and circumstances. Please note that if you or your opposing party have pointed out issues in the home environments of the other parent, then it is likely that the social study evaluator will focus on these issues when conducting a home study.
Criminal history and background searches will be conducted for you and your opposing party. Anything out of the ordinary that came up in those searches will be detailed in the social study report. For instance, if you have ever been arrested or been involved in a Child Protective Services (CPS) case, that will be especially relevant to a judge who has to decide what is in your child's best interests.
Finally, the evaluator will assess you and your opposing party's relationship with your child. Much of the information they will base their evaluation on is collected during the home study. At its core, social research wants to help the judge determine how well you and your child have bonded and how well you relate to one another.
What could also be included in your social study report?
So far, we have touched on the subject matter that the judge will expect to see in your social study report. This section will discuss those subjects that may find themselves included in the report.
Those people may be interviewed if you live with anyone, and information about those interviews may be included in the report. Beyond that, assessments of your and your opposing party's home environments may be included in the report as well if there is anything noteworthy or relevant to fit.
Suppose there is any other information that the evaluator has collected that they believe is relevant to the judge's ultimate decision to name your child's primary conservator. In that case, they can choose to include that as well. As the fact-finder, the judge in your case is the person whose job it is to assign weight to any one piece of evidence and make a decision based on the importance of the evidence available to them.
Final elements that need to be included in your social study report
The report will include the name and professional resume of the social study evaluator and any licenses or titles that they hold in their area of expertise. Whatever recommendations are included in the report must be backed up with facts and circumstances that led to the offer being made. In this way, the evaluator cannot make recommendations without citing specific information that led them to make that recommendation; if they are relying upon something as a fact, they must specify how it was determined that the information was confirmed as a fact than merely as an opinion.
No recommendation as to which parent should be named as the primary conservator of your child can be made as a part of the report unless all of the elements I mentioned earlier are included in the report. The judge should not consider an incomplete assessment that led to a preliminary recommendation regarding conservatorship. When the information is complete, it will be filed into your case record by the evaluator. Copies of the report will be sent directly to each party and the judge.
If your case proceeds to a trial, your social study evaluator may be called as a witness and examined by both parties regarding the evaluation that was completed as well as any recommendations that were conducted in the report. The biggest thing that attorneys will ask about in a trial is how accurate the information the social study evaluator relied upon was. You see, the evaluator is asked to testify often by the party who was not recommended to be the primary conservator of your child.
Final thoughts on social studies
Unless you and your opposing party disagree on the issue of a conservatorship of your child, you will not be involved in a social study. These are rare instances where social research needs to be conducted, but you should know that they are tedious and time-consuming if one is done. With that said, it is advisable that if there is any middle ground to be had in your case, then you and your opposing party ought to consider how you can settle your case without involving a social study.
Note that you and your opposing party pay the social study evaluator based on different circumstances. Suppose you, for example, earn much more money in income than your ex-spouse. In that case, you will probably be paying for the lion's share of the social study evaluator's fees and keeping in mind that social studies sometimes take a year or more to complete. You would be well suited to arrive at a settlement in most circumstances rather than to proceed with a social study.
Questions on social studies? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC
If you have any questions about the subject matter that we have discussed today, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. Our attorneys bring a great deal of experience and know-how to your case, and we would be honored to speak to you about your case and circumstances. Please contact us today to schedule a free-of-charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys.