In a Texas family law case where child custody is being disputed, you will be assigned a social study evaluator to work on your case. This evaluator will conduct a social study that results in interviews being conducted and evaluations of all sorts being made. Ultimately the social study evaluator will recommend at the end of a report that summarizes their findings. The judge in your case will utilize this report and its recommendation as part of the evidence used in arriving at a determination as to where your child should reside primarily.
As a part of a social study, an investigation into your home and the home of your child's other parent will be conducted. You will be notified by the social study evaluator ahead of when they will come by your house to conduct the home study. It would help if you prepared for this date by having a set plan for what you want to do with your child during this time. Having the home study occur on a lazy Saturday where you and your child watch a movie at home will not allow the evaluator much of a window into your relationship.
What should you do with your child during the home study?
A tip that I have told clients is to try and schedule the home visit during a time of the day where you and your child can prepare a meal together. This tip works well if you and your child enjoy doing things like working together on projects. I realize that this is not the case for every family, but it could work out well for many. It will allow the social study evaluator to see you collaborating with your child and vice versa. It also can show your level of patience with your child should an issue arise in creating the meal.
If the home study does not occur around mealtime, you can do something like setting up a bit of a game of basketball or another similar activity. Again- interaction between you and your child is the crucial thing that you will want to display to your evaluator. This is likely the one chance that you will have to show the evaluator just how well you and your child engage with one another.
Finally, when the evaluator is done watching the interaction portion of the home study, all persons in your home will need to be interviewed. This includes relatives and non-family residents who are not involved in your case. Keep this in mind if you plan on inviting others to live with you for any reason.
What is a social study questionnaire?
Social study evaluations are not just a person coming into your house to watch you shoot hoops with your child for half an hour. The social study can take anywhere from six months to 18 months to complete and involve multiple steps. Not only is a home study done, but interviews are conducted, and you fill out paperwork and the other party, then submitted to the evaluator. Medical and school records, where relevant, may also need to be provided to the social study evaluator.
Both parents will complete written questionnaires in the social study. Your upbringing, educational background, and history regarding parenting your child will be asked of you in this questionnaire. If you have a criminal history or medical history, then that information will need to be provided to the social study evaluator. You would be wise to disclose information that could be harmful to you. Harmful information is the type that you may have disclosed in the "skeletons in your closet" section of the paperwork you filled out for your attorney when you first hired them.
To avoid looking like your attorney coached you through completing the document, we usually will not work with clients on their first draft of the answers to the questionnaire. However, your attorney will likely want to review your answers before submitting them to the social study evaluator. You can use this opportunity to discuss your plan with the social study evaluator to utilize your support network of family and friends in raising your children.
Letting the social study evaluator know what your goals for the case
The questionnaire will give you a chance to let the social study evaluator know how much time you believe is necessary for you and your child once the family law case concludes. If your goal is to become the primary caretaker for your child, or if you wish to split time with your child's other parent 50/50, you should state this in your questionnaire.
It is best to have a solid plan of attack regarding how you will win that type of arrangement and what you will do with the time you are awarded in a trial or mediation. Stability and consistency are the two most important qualities that a social study evaluator will be looking for when it comes to your plans for your child. I have seen time and transportation issues as two significant factors that play a role in which parent is named as the primary conservator. Be sure to note how much time you want to spend with your child, your plan for helping ensure your child participates in extracurricular activities, and what sort of transportation you can help provide your child with.
The medical and educational needs of your child need to be met too.
What about your child's physical and academic well beings? Especially if your child requires special assistance in school or the context of medical problems, you will want to share your plan to deal with these issues. You should write your responses from the perspective of how things will affect your child- not how they will affect you. It is easy to fall into the trap of approaching this type of family law case from the perspective of you versus the other parent. However, I would strongly warn against this mindset.
Approach this as an opportunity to know exactly what issues your child's faces and how you will deal with those issues. If your child has a disability of some sort, you will need to work on a plan to work with the other parent and your child's school to ensure that their needs are met.
This last point is one that I would like to emphasize as we close out today's blog post. It is not wise to make this a "you against the world" proposition. The social study evaluator will likely want to see how you envision your relationship with your child into the future and how you envision your relationship with your child's other parent into the future. If you do not mention their name in your plans, you may feel justified in doing so, but this will likely hurt your chance to achieve your goals in this case. Parenting together could stand to benefit your child a great deal- no matter how difficult that may be for you and your child's other parent.
More on references in tomorrow's blog post
Tomorrow's blog post will discuss how to handle the request for references regarding a social study conducted about your family. Listing off your three best friends and providing them to the social study evaluator may not be the best idea, after all.
In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding family law cases, I recommend that you contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. Our licensed family law attorneys meet with people in our community six days a week at no charge. We do so to help provide you with helpful information that can benefit your and your child's lives. To schedule, a consultation simply gives us a call to speak to a helpful office staff member.