Social Investigation and Child Custody Evaluation 101

Social Investigation and Child Custody Evaluation 101

No family is perfect, and all have their ups and downs. But what happens when the health of a family is under question?

There are circumstances where the inner workings of a household are forced under examination by the court of law. In the majority of cases, it’s the well-being of a child or children that are at the center of the investigation. The official name of this is called a Social Investigation or Child Custody Evaluation.

You may be thinking, “Well my family has its flaws, are we subject to investigation or evaluation?” Know this, these aren’t random studies that occur if someone sees little Kelsey or Noah misbehaving at Target. No, an investigation or evaluation is ordered for several reasons. These includes:

  • Child abuse
  • Parental or child substance abuse
  • Parental or child mental health issues
  • Problematic parenting skills
  • Child custody/time-sharing/visitation

If you find yourself or family in a situation where a judge orders a social investigation or child custody evaluation, there are things you should know before going in. First, let’s understand what each are, how they’re similar, and how they’re unique.

What is Social Investigation?
A social investigation is conducted by a neutral third-party mental health professional who examines a child’s well-being within a family. Usually, a judge orders a skilled mental health specialist to determine a child’s health and safety through several processes. The practice includes:

  • Home Study – A social investigator can visit the household in order to evaluate living conditions. During the visit, children, parents, step-parents and/or other caretakers are often interviewed.
  • Resource Interview – An expert will interview parents and/or collaborative parties about their involvement and experiences with the child(ren). Collaborative interviews often include teachers, caretakers, guardians, etc.
  • Mental Health CheckThe mental health professional studies a child’s stressors and triggers to determine how they’re affected by their current familial structure and habits.
  • Parent Tests & EvaluationsBoth parents are analyzed to determine if they’re mentally fit to parent and able to care for their child(ren).

What is a Child Custody Evaluation?

Photo: Koenig | Dunne

There is a specific type of social investigation for co-parents in a custody or visitation dispute called a Child Custody Evaluation. The evaluation develops when one or both co-parents aren’t satisfied with their current custody or visitation arrangement or believe that a new schedule will better suit the child’s needs. If this happens, a family court judge will order a non-bias mental health professional to evaluate you and your co-parent. The practice includes:

  • Co-Parent Interviews –  Examiner will separately question both parents to see if they’re in good mental health and able to provide optimal child care.
  • Child InterviewsChildren are interviewed, often without either parent present, to review their overall health, safety, and preferences.
  • Resource InterviewInvestigator can speak with the child’s teachers or health care providers to better understand their behavior and health patterns.
  • Psychological Tests & EvaluationsAnyone in the family is subject to undergo in-depth mental screenings if the professional sees fit.
  • Legal Activity ReviewThe child custody evaluator can review any prior court cases, divorces, and custody cases. This step is unique from the social investigation process.

So a judge has ordered you to undergo a Social Investigation or Child Custody Evaluation, now what?

How to Prepare for a Social Investigation or Child Custody Evaluation
The investigation and evaluation process can be stressful for both parents and children. There are ways to prepare yourself and the family to keep it running smoothly. Follow these guidelines to get ready:

  • Remain calm and cooperative. Remember the mental health care professional is neutral and on no one’s side but the child’s. No matter your feelings of the arrangement, stay level-headed to prevent misrepresenting yourself.
  • Stay organized. The examiner will request you attend several appointments and turn in a variety of documents along the way, so stay punctual and prepared.
  • Put your child first. This can be a trying process, especially for co-parents, but remember the health and happiness of your child is most important and the ultimate goal of the examinations.

If you find yourself or a family member under social investigation or child custody evaluation, remember a few things. First, the process is court-ordered and requires your full attention. Second, the mental health professional is a neutral source of information whose main concern is the health of your child. Third, the ultimate decision is up to the judge, as the conclusion of the investigation is submitted via a written report to the courts and the parties involved. Lastly, your child will be alright. The combination of court and evaluation will ensure the best interest of your child is held in the highest regard.

Want more answers? Contact me today to discuss social investigation or child custody evaluation needs.

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