Social Investigation

When the best interest of the child is in question, it is likely that a judge will order a social investigation. A qualified mental health professional will evaluate the living situation of a child(ren), conduct home studies, parent and collaborative resource interviews, various types of mental health, perceptual, and/or parenting tests & evaluations and provide the court with a recommendation on what is best for the child, it is called a Social Investigation. A Social Investigation can be ordered for a number of reasons including concerns about child abuse, substance or mental health issues, one parent wished to move out of state and the other parent objects, questionable parenting skills, parents are unable to agree on time-sharing/custody of ta child(ren). The investigator’s job is to record and compile information about the family dynamic, make a recommendation and present it to a judge. The judge can choose to follow all, parts, or none of the recommendations. A Social investigation are previously termed as child custody evaluations, forensic evaluations, parenting plan evaluation. Our Social Investigation are available in Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida.

What can I expect from Social Investigation and Parenting Recommendations?

Some areas of evaluations and assessment may include:

  • Interviews with each child, parent, stepparent, or adult in a parenting role.
  • Contact with relevant professionals, such as teachers, doctors and employers.
  • Interviews with objective character references submitted by each parent.
  • Visits to the homes of each parent.
  • Background checks of relevant police and Court records.
  • Completion of relevant surveys and questionnaires as requested by the social investigator.
  • Presentation of facts to the Court offering professional opinions as to parental responsibilities, and time-sharing arrangements that are in the best interests of the child(ren).

Not all Social Investigation / Child Custody Evaluations will result in a recommendation. At times the evaluator/investigator feels it is in the best interests of the child to maintain the current parent time-sharing as derived from sound data from assessments used in evaluation.

How can a Judge, who doesn’t know the specifics of my family determine the best interests of my child?

Basics of Florida Child Custody Law

  • If parents are unable to agree on parent time-sharing, a Florida divorce Judge will decide on the parenting plan based on specific laws on how to.
  • Florida has specific laws on how a Judge should consider recommendations from Custody Evaluations or a Social Investigation in a child custody/parenting time-sharing case.

Factors the Judge must consider before making a ruling include:

The Court may give one parent ultimate responsibility over all or specific aspects of a child’s welfare. The Court must consider the following when deciding on time-sharing, custody or which parent should have primary residence:

  • Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the nonresidential parent
  • What parent will facilitate a great relationship with the child and the other parent
  • The love, affection and other emotional ties between the parents and the child
  • Each parent’s ability to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care and other material needs
  • The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity
  • Acting Upon the Child’s Needs First
  • The permanence of the existing or proposed custodial home
  • The moral fitness of the parents
  • The mental and physical health of the parents
  • The home, school and community record of the child
  • The reference of the child, if the child is intelligent, understanding and experienced enough to express a preference
  • Evidence of domestic violence or child abuse
  • Stable Environment for the Kids: Florida presumes that stability is a good thing for kids. Accordingly, the Court will look at the amount of time a child has lived in stable environment and address whether continuing on will be a good thing

After custody order is signed by the Judge and filed with the Court Clerk, both parents are bound by it.

Supervised Visitation
Social Investigation are conducted under the same standards as child custody evaluation.
Social Investigations in Tampa, Florida.

What happens if a parent doesn’t follow the Court order for custody or time-sharing?

If a parent is denied Court-Ordered access to a child, he or she may bring the issue back before the Court. The Judge may decide to modify the time sharing order, order makeup time-sharing for the time missed and order counseling or mediation.

♦ Social Investigation are conducted under the same standards as Child Custody Evaluation and all components under 61.13, should be addressed and I follow these standards. I am certified and trained by the Professional Academy of Child Custody Evaluators. I administer research based instruments or assessments but do not conduct psychological assessments such as the MMPI or the MCMI-III, as a standard part of a Social Investigation. However, if I believe there is a serious need for psychological testing, I will either arrange for the administration of more extensive testing or refer the administration of that testing out to a forensic psychologist to conduct extensive testing.  A thorough investigation will typically take a minimum of three (3) month to complete and often times extends beyond this time from due to the availability of collateral contacts and access to requested records – both of which are beyond my control.  This reports generated from these investigations are based on standards and guidelines from the Professional Academy of Custody Evaluators.

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What is a Parenting Plan?

Chapter 61 of the Florida Statues that governs family matters requires that Court to establish or adopt a parenting plan in every proceeding involving children.  A parenting plan is a document, of information included in a settlement agreement, that governs the relationship between the parents how they will parent their children.  Such provisions include, but are not limited to, the time-sharing schedule, holiday time-sharing schedule, provisions for extra-curricular activities, education, child care, contact between the parents, contact between the children and parents, physical, and emotional well-being and out-of-state (or country) travel.

What type of Social Investigator do I need and who is qualified to be a court-appointed social investigator?

Some professional Child Custody Evaluations or Social Investigation feel that the type of evaluator/investigator that should be appointed depends on the facts of the particular case.  If, for example, there are allegations of mental health or substance abuse issues in the case, a psychologist or licensed mental health counselor (inter-familial / interpersonal relationships) will be the best choice but if there are not serious issues other than parent disagreements than an attorney (laws) social investigator may be more appropriate.  In factual reality, most of what is involved in taming disagreements and conflict is related to intra-personal emotional battles between parents about children or parent time-sharing.

Even if there is no substance abuse or mental health issues a mental health professional is still the better choice to identify thought process, parenting skills and discipline patterns that are in the child’s best interest at varying developmental stages of the child.

Even if you are gathering facts, or trying to obtain evidence that may be difficult to admit in a case, a mental health professional is trained to identify and attain evidence related to intra-personal or inter-familial concerns in order to obtain your desire outcome.  Mental health professionals who are trained to conduct Child Custody or Social Investigation are also trained and fluent in working with deadlines, to gather, organize, and present facts and information in a clear and concise manner and to efficiently produce comprehensive evaluation reports.

Florida Statues 61.20 state qualifications of professionals in Social Investigation click here.
Professionals in Social Investigation can be licensed Psychologists, clinical Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, or Mental Health Counselors, licensed pursuant to Chapter 491, Florida Statues. Social Investigators are required to have multiple skills, including techniques for interviewing and assessing adults, children and families; conducting home studies and field investigations; identifying, organizing and understanding important collateral sources of information; administering and interpreting standardized questionnaires, surveys and other data collection tools; and report writing.

Social Investigators are also required to have knowledge, training and experience in the areas of child development, family systems, the effects of divorce on children and families, other issues common to families in crisis (e.g., domestic violence, substance abuse, child abuse, etc.).

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