Most Texas courts will order a social study evaluation to be completed if conservatorship (custody) or possession of and access to a child are being contested. The Texas Family Code contains specific requirements for completion of a social study evaluation. It is important to be knowledgeable about the process of a social study evaluation. In Texas custody cases, the recommendations contained within a social study evaluation carry a great deal of weight with the Court. Many custody cases can be won or lost based upon these recommendations. As with all aspects of custody litigation, it is important to be prepared for what comes next in the process.
A thorough social study evaluation can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete. During this time, the social study evaluator will conduct individual interviews with both parties to the case, joint interviews with each party and the child, and individual interviews with the child. The social study evaluator will request that each parent submit several references to be consulted regarding his/her parenting skills and involvement with the children. The social study evaluator will also conduct an in-home interview at each parent’s residence during this process. The social study evaluator will also consult with relevant collateral resources, such as school teachers, counselors, and healthcare providers. Once the social study evaluator has completed the evaluation he/she will prepare a written report detailing his/her findings and recommendations. These recommendations can include: which parent should be the primary conservator of the child, the residency restriction on the primary residence of the child, and the possession and access schedule for both parents. Although the Court is not bound by these recommendations they can be very persuasive evidence for the Court.
Over the next several weeks, I will outline the requirements of a social study evaluation pursuant to the Texas Family Code. I will also provide information that may be helpful to anyone that will be participating in a social study evaluation in Texas.