What is a social study and why might you need one?

If you find yourself in a child custody dispute – whether it is in the divorce context or not – you may end up needing a social study.  In Dallas County, every family court requires a social study in a contested custody case.  Other jurisdictions may or may not have the same requirement.

A social study involves a neutral, outside party investigating the circumstances of the case.  The social study is conducted by someone with a social work background.  They meet with both parties, interview references, and meet with the child.  They watch both parties interact with the child.  They also conduct home visits at both parties’ homes.

The preparer also may request access to certain records, such as medical records or school records, that could help provide insight into what is in the best interest of the child.  For example if one parent contends a child has missed school on a regular basis while in the care of the other parent, the social study preparer may want to review records from the school.  Or, if a parent has concerns over the mental health of the other parent, the social study preparer may want to review medical records of the parent.

In Dallas County, social studies are generally conducted by an in-house department called Family Court Services (“FCS”).  FCS has offices in the courthouse, and initial interviews take place in those offices.  The fees for social studies conducted by FCS vary and are based on the parties’ income.  The judge calculates the fee based on a percentage of income.

In other counties, such as Collin County, social studies are done by private individuals or companies.  There are a few low cost options in the range of $500-$1,000 per side, but some private social studies can cost thousands of dollars.

In general, I think social studies are a wonderful tool in custody cases.  They provide an unbiased opinion on the case and usually help facilitate an appropriate settlement.

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