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The importance of a reference letter during a child custody home study

The past few days we have been discussing the topic of social studies generally and more specifically home studies in yesterday’s blog post. If you have not done so already I recommend that you go back and read those posts because they will be helpful in picking up with today’s subject matter.

In today’s blog post I would like to talk to you all about a specific area of home studies- the reference letter. As a part of the home study you will be asked to give to the social study evaluator a list of references that you believe can speak to your experience and temperament as a parent. As with anything else related to a family law case there is a recommended method for completing this portion of the case.

At a minimum you will usually be expected to provide the name and contact information for at least three references. I have some information and perspective I would like to present to you as far as who you may want to use as a reference and what the emphasis of the letter should be.

Point the social study evaluator towards family and non-family members

You can use family members as one or two of your references but it is recommended that you not use only family members. The reason for this is pretty simple: family members may know you the best but they will undoubtedly be biased in favor of you and against your child’s other parent. That’s just the way of the world and a social study evaluator will know this coming in to the interview.

The social study evaluator would like to gain as varied a perspective on your parenting acumen and skills as possible. This means that talking to four people who are all going to say the same thing, from the same vantage point probably will not be all that helpful. Therefore, consider using people like teachers, neighbors, family friends and even co-workers of yours. These people will likely be able to provide a different perspective from your parents and have more credibility due to their not having a “dog in the fight.”

Listen to the instructions from the social study evaluator and follow them

You do not get extra credit for providing more references than are requested by the social study evaluator. In fact, with limited time to spend on your evaluation, the evaluator may actually hold it against you that you provided him or her with more than the requested amount of references.

At a certain point it becomes an issue of instruction following- just like when you were in school. The social study evaluator wants to see if you can follow the rules that are prescribed for whatever process you are involved in. This may not be the fairest comparison but would it be outrageous to think that because you cannot follow the instructions of a social study evaluator that you also would not be able to follow the instructions of a district court judge?

If you feel like you absolutely have to turn over as many references as possible to the social study evaluator then I would recommend having your attorney contact him or her to see if that is allowable or even possible.

Do not just turn over the references without consulting with each person first

When my wife and I created our wills this past year we named my sister and her husband as the guardians of our children should something happen to both my wife and I. This is a huge responsibility that we put on my sister and brother in law and we took time to decide on including their names.

What we also did was speak to them before putting them into our wills to make sure they understood what the responsibility was and if it was something they were willing to take on. Fortunately they said that they would be honored to be named in this way as potential guardians of their nieces.

Here’s where I bring it back to the topic of social study references: you need to contact your references before you include them to let them know what may be expected of them if and when they are contacted by the evaluator. The evaluator will frequently mail in a questionnaire to the reference as a first step in the process. It is important that your references keep and eye on the mail for these forms and submit them in a timely fashion.

Completing the actual reference letters

The number one, most important aspect of acting as a reference in your family law case is to complete a letter that is to be submitted to the social study evaluator. This letter will address your qualities as a parent that make you a desirable candidate to be awarded primary conservatorship rights over your child. The letters will need to be completed and turned in to the social study evaluator by a certain deadline. You can help out the process by checking in periodically with your references to see if they need any assistance completing the letters.

All the references have to do is to write a letter stating their personal observations of you and your child. This is why I suggested earlier for different sorts of people to act as your references rather than just family members. Imagine if you are the social study evaluator and you get four letters from your references all talking about Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday get-togethers over the past couple years. That would not only be monotonous to read, but isn’t going to show the evaluator how you and your child interact in diverse settings.

Leave your opposing party out of the letters

If at all possible your references should avoid mentioning your opposing party. By all means your references should not voice their negative opinions about that person, lest the letter become a litany of bad behavior that your opposing party has engaged in on previous occasions. It is understandable if your references are in favor of you and against your opposing party winning primary conservatorship of your child. That does not justify their using the letter to badmouth the other parent.

Keep in mind that there will be a limited amount of pages that your reference can use to write their letter. You can imagine how tedious it would be for a social study evaluator to have to read ten or fifteen page letters that only dance around the subject matter that needs to be included in the letter. With that said, the evaluator should follow the instructions provided to him or her in completing the letter. There are multiple avenues for you and your attorney to address concerns you have about your opposing party and you should use those avenues as much as you need to. The reference letter is not one of those opportunities.

What goes in to a social study report? Stay tuned tomorrow to find out

In tomorrow’s blog post we will get into the actual report that is created by the social study evaluator. Once all of the reference letters are received, home studies are completed and interviews are conducted the evaluator will use the data this is collected to create a report for your judge. The report will synthesize the data and ultimately arrive at a recommendation as to which parent should be awarded primary conservatorship. We will explain the social study evaluator’s report in detail in tomorrow’s blog post.

Questions about reference letters or social studies? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the social study process- including reference letters- please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. Our licensed family law attorneys are experienced in helping guide clients through this important step involved in a contested child custody case.

We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with our licensed family law attorneys. It is our privilege to represent people in our community just like you. From Katy to The Woodlands our attorneys and staff work to benefit the lives of our clients and their families.

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