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Resolving Child Custody Disputes Through Social Investigations


Parents quickly become emotional about child custody issues, and with good reason – the parent/child relationship is one of the most important relationships in a person’s life. When disputes arise over this loaded issue with a former spouse or partner, resolving them can feel practically impossible. Most parents realize, though, that children are not appropriately served when ongoing conflict disrupts the ability to effectively and civilly share custody. These hotly-disputed custody disagreements typically end up in front of a judge who then must determine how to structure a workable arrangement, a daunting task even when parents are able to work together. As courts have limited resources to delve into the finer points of a child’s living situation, judges will often order social investigations to fill in gaps, and allow a court to make a more informed decision. In addition, the parents may jointly or individually request a social investigation to recommend the allocation of parenting responsibilities and time-sharing. A social investigator is appointed, typically an impartial mental health professional, to study whichever aspects of a family’s situation the court believes to be most pertinent to rendering a decision. The insertion of a third party tasked with evaluating child custody issues may come as a surprise by parents, and appear as if their parenting skills are being questioned. However, this adversarial view is not the best way to approach this process, which is really designed to find the child’s best interests. A discussion of the issues social investigators generally evaluate, as well as how their report influences the outcome of a child custody ruling, will follow below.

Social Investigation Process

The scope of a social investigation is determined by the parameters set by the court when the order to initiate the process is entered. The general structure is to evaluate the child’s relationship and home environment with each parent, which is typically accomplished through a home study. Thus, visits to each home and interviews with the parents and child, as well as any other third party with pertinent information (neighbors, friends, teachers, extended family, etc.) are routine steps used in these investigations. Beyond in-person visits and interviews, background checks and the completion of psychological tests and surveys are commonly made.

Once this information is gathered, the facts and findings of the social investigator’s study are presented to the court and to each parent. This report may include recommendations on decision-making and parenting time, or may be limited to providing the judge with information he/she may use to reach an independent decision.

Influence on the Outcome

Courts do generally place a lot of weight on an investigator’s recommendations due to their training and experience with assessing a child’s welfare, but also because they should have a full grasp of the facts that most matter when formulating a parenting plan. However, these recommendations are non-binding, and courts are free to go another direction, though such action is rare. This means the findings of the social investigator will likely have a profound effect on each parent’s involvement in the child’s life. This includes the possibility that an investigator could find one parent unfit, and recommend the other parent receive all custody rights. This point underscores that fact that these investigations need to be taken seriously, and require the full cooperation of each parent. Social investigations can provide invaluable information in contested custody matters, and could be utilized more, but they should be approached with the understanding of the great influence the social investigator has on the court’s decision, so parents understand the need to fully respond and engage in the process.

Speak with a Florida Family Law Attorney

Resolving child custody disagreements is hard, and sometimes, court intervention is necessary to settle the issue. The attorneys at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. understand how important and overwhelming these situations are, and will use our experience in family law to get you an outcome that is best for your family. Contact our Fort Lauderdale law firm today to learn how they can help.



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