[P]reviously I gave you ten recommendations to Be Prepared for Your Child Custody Evaluation, or social study as they are called in Texas. Today I want to go much deeper and look as very specific tasks to consider for a court appointed social study.
The Court Appointed Social Study Starts with the Paperwork
Type Out the Paperwork Fully & Completely. In Texas, the social study doesn’t actually start with a home visit. That event comes much later. At the start, you will be given a questionnaire or packet to fill out, asking you detailed information on your background, education, living arrangements, work, details about your children and Ex.
Most courts will ask you to fill out this paperwork as soon as the fee for the social study has been paid. When you are handed these forms, ask to fill them out at home and return them later. DO NOT fill them out in the waiting room. Here’s why.
You will be judged based on your answers, penmanship, spelling, tone, expanded details, and how you refer to your Ex etc. That’s a lot of pressure for a document that will be a major element on determining whether Johnny lives primarily with you or not. A document that important, deserves some thought and several rounds of edits.
For me, I made copies of the forms. I took several hours on Saturday and wrote out my first draft. I then had an English teacher friend proofreader it. Then I gave it to my attorney to review it once more. Based on his advise, I expanded details of my activities with my daughter, added and deleted relevant answers.
Finally, using a blue pen, I hand wrote my final copy on the original forms. You need to pretend it is your final term paper and the social worker is going to determine if you pass the class. It could be the most significant paperwork you ever fill out, treat it as such.
[tweet “Custody Tip: If your penmanship is bad, consider typing out your social study answers.”]
The Court Appointed Social Study Requires a Stage Ready House
Despite popular belief, a social worker is not going to knock on your door two days after you turn in the paperwork. He or she will not perform a surprise visit on you and your kids. In North Texas, the average time runs from about 90 days to six months later for the caseworker to call and schedule a home visit. My visit was nine months later. Keep in mind they want to visit at a specific time when you and your kids will be home at your house. Thus, they will only visit during your weekends or time with your kids. In an effort to make their trip productive, they almost always call first. Mine did two weeks before his visit.
So in the interim, it is time to de-clutter and stage your house as if you were going to sell it.
Hypothetically, your house needs to be in the exact state your realtor would recommend in order for you to sell it. Kids’s pictures on the walls, lots of open space, a spotless kitchen and a colorful, kid-centric children bedrooms and bathrooms. A social worker could ask to see:
- The Play Area
- The Kitchen
- The Inside of Your Refrigerator
- The Children’s Bedrooms
- The Kids’s Bathrooms
- The Kids’s Closets
- Your Medicine Cabinet
The Court Appointed Social Study Home Visit Requires Practice
Caitlyn was four years old when a caseworker arrived at my house to conduct the court appointed social study. After checking out the areas of my house listed above, he asked to speak to my daughter privately. We were in the middle of playing Candyland and she gave him a tour of the house and they talked in her bedroom.
That’s a lot to ask of a young child, so I didn’t leave it to chance. For several months, I had my daughter open our front door and greet unknown friends appropriately. I had her for several months, give them tours of our home, and they asked her questions about her bedroom, pictures, games, and her bathroom. NOTE: I DID NOT tell her what to say or give her any lines, that approach will backfire. HOWEVER, we did practice politeness and becoming familiar with talking to guest.
The Court Appointed Social Study Home Visit Allows You Share Facts
When the case worker completed his talk with Caitlyn and was satisfied with his house tour, he sat at my kitchen table and asked, “If I had any questions?”
I took this opportunities to present him with typed pages of facts and concerns I had about my Ex. I showed his stacks of shoes and clothes that had been replaced. I gave him transcriptions of taped telephone conversations from which my Ex cussed me out (which she did fairly regularly). I was very nonchalant, but suggested that “perhaps” he should look into this matter more closely. He took all the evidence I suggested with him.
In conclusion, everything I gave him showed up in his nine page recommendation. The report was read word for word by the jury members and aided greatly in their decision to grant me full custody of my then, four year-old daughter.
Take as much time preparing for your social study as you would your final court hearing. It’s a serious matter, plan for it according.
What advice would you add? What was important in your social study?
Image from Naypong via www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net.