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 asked to turn over a list of references of people in your life to the social study evaluator. These references will then go on to 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. What your social study evaluator is trying to accomplish is to help the judge decide which parent should be named as the primary conservator of your child. To help him or her get a better idea about all the work that went into completing the social study, the evaluator will create a report that synthesizes the information that was collected. Most importantly, the report will contain a recommendation that is 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. If your goal is to do everything you can to win primary conservatorship of your child then you will need to know what a social study evaluator is looking for and how he or she 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 certain 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 then he or she will also be interviewed. Obviously, the questions that are asked of your fourteen year old child will be different than are asked of your four year old child, but nonetheless children who are at least four will be interviewed by the evaluator.
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 observed in the home of their other parent in order to give the evaluator a good perspective as to how he or she reacts 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 for you and your opposing party will be conducted and 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 then that will be especially relevant to a judge who has to make a decision as to what is in the best interests of your child.
Finally, the evaluator will assess you and your opposing party’s relationship with your child. Much of the information that he or she will be basing their evaluation on is collected during the home study. At its core, the social study wants to help the judge determine how well you and your child have bonded to one another 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. In this section we will discuss those subjects that may find themselves included in the report.
If you live with anyone, those people may be interviewed 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 include.
If there is any other information that the evaluator has collected that he or she believes is relevant to the judge’s ultimate decision of naming a primary conservator of your child then he or she 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 to make a decision based on the weight of the evidence available to him or her.
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 as well as any licenses or titles that he or she holds in their area of expertise. Whatever recommendations are included in the report must be backed up with facts and circumstances that led to the recommendation being made. In this way the evaluator cannot make recommendations without citing specific information that led him or her to making that particular recommendation. If he or she is relying upon something as a fact he or she must specify how it was determined that the information was confirmed as a fact rather 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 have to consider an incomplete assessment that led to an incomplete recommendation regarding conservatorship. When the report is complete, it will be filed into the record of your case by the evaluator. Copies of the report will be sent directly to each party and the judge as well.
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 completed in the report. The biggest thing that attorneys will ask about in a trial is how accurate the information is that the social study evaluator relied upon was. You see the evaluator asked to testify often times 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 conservatorship of your child you will not be involved in a social study. These are rare instances where a social study needs to be conducted, but if one is done you should know that they are tedious and time consuming. 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 the social study evaluator is paid by you and your opposing party based on different circumstances. If you, for example, earn much more money in income compared to your ex-spouse it is probable that you will be paying for the lion’s share of the social study evaluator’s fees. Keeping in mind that social studies sometimes take a year or more to complete and 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. To schedule a free of charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys please contact us today.