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.
 

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.