References and Reference Letters: During your social study evaluation, you will be required to submit reference letters to the social study evaluator. The number of personal references and reference letters requested can range from 3 or more. The following are some points to keep in mind when deciding who your references should be and what the focus of the reference letters should be.

1. DO NOT have family members serve as all of your references. Although family members as references can be helpful, generally family members are thought to be more biased for obvious reasons. The purpose of providing your references in a social study evaluation is so that the social study evaluator can obtain information regarding your parenting skills and involvement from as many difference sources as possible. Therefore, school teachers, babysitters, neighbors, friends, and/or co-workers can serve as excellent references. They tend to be thought of as more neutral.

2. DO NOT submit more personal references and/or reference letters than requested by the social study evaluator. Doing so would illustrate that you cannot follow instructions. If you have more references that you would like to submit, then advise the social study evaluator that you have more, and request his/her permission to submit more references.

3. DO contact your personal references and let them know that they may be contacted by your social study evaluator. Make sure that your references know the name of the social study evaluator assigned to your case. Generally, the social study evaluator will mail a reference questionnaire directly to the references that you listed in your initial paperwork. However, you do want to let your references know to expect a letter in the mail, email, or possibly a phone call from your social study evaluator.

4. DO make sure that your reference letters are completed and returned to the social study evaluator by the deadline. The social study evaluator will let you and your references know when he/she would like the completed reference letters.

5. DO make sure to inform your personal references that the point of them completing these letters is to discuss your character, but more importantly to discuss your strengths as a parent. In my opinion, this is a task that can be easily completed by having your references write about their personal observations of you interacting with your children. For example, your interaction with your children at soccer games, school functions, medical appointments, etc.

6. DO NOT have your personal references include negative attributes about the other parent involved in the social study evaluation. These reference letters are your opportunity to have people build you up as a parent and to discuss your strengths as a parent. Many social study evaluators will set a page limit for the reference letter. Do not let your references spend their valuable space disparaging the other parent. There is a time and place for everything. You will have the opportunity to discuss your concerns about the other parent during the social study evaluation. However, reference letters are not the time or the place.

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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.