What is a social investigation in a custody case?

What Is a Social Investigation and how does it impact your custody case?

When children are involved in a Florida divorce, one of the most important responsibilities of the Court is to ensure that the best interests of the children are protected. In a combative or strongly emotional divorce where tensions run high, it may be necessary to have a neutral mental health professional conduct a social investigation.

Here are the basics of social investigations and why they can be an integral part of child custody decisions in Florida.

Social Investigations and the Role of the Social Investigator

While some parents may think they can rely on the help of a child custody lawyer to be awarded full custody, Florida has actually done away with the practice of awarding one parent with custody of the children. Florida now relies on a model based on parenting plans and timesharing schedules. Of course, it is still important to have a child custody lawyer working to advance and protect your legal interests, but “custody” is no longer a term that is legally recognized by the State of Florida.

Returning to the topic of social investigations, Section 61.20 of The 2016 Florida Statutes says that, whenever parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan, the court may order a social investigation and study concerning all pertinent details relating to the child and each parent.

This Social Investigator is often a mental health professional, and the Investigator must always be a neutral and impartial third party. Alternatively, the Court may also appoint a licensed psychologist, clinical social worker or family therapist to fulfill this role as well. In either case, the Investigator must always be neutral, meaning the Investigator has no prior relationship with either parent or any of the children.

When a Court orders a social investigation pursuant to Section 61.20, the Court will both appoint an investigator and will also outline the issues that the Investigator should address. Taking a look at the Court’s Order of Referral of Social Investigation and Study formreveals that the Court can order the Investigator to look into issues such as:

  • The Initial Determination of a Parent Plan
  • Modification of an Existing Plan
  • Time-Sharing Schedule Concerns
  • Other Issues Related to Parenting Schedules and/or Plans

When making these evaluations, the Investigator typically analyzes both parents, their lifestyles and predilections before making a recommendation regarding parenting time. Typical considerations and assessments made during a social investigation can include:

  • Background checks
  • Checking the police records of parents
  • Interviewing both parents and the child/children
  • Interviewing of the parent’s respective character references
  • Interviewing employers and other professionals

The Investigator’s findings could lead them to recommend equal time or spending more time with one of the parents. In rare cases, an unfit parent could lead an Investigator to recommend that one parent receive all the parenting time. The Court typically gives a great deal of weight to the Investigator’s assessments and ultimate recommendation, due to their neutral, third party status.

As a general rule, expect the Social Investigator’s findings to have a significant impact on your family’s timeshare plan and your parenting schedule, your divorce attorney Tampa, for more information about social investigations and how they may impact your case.

If you have questions regarding custody and divorce, or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a Tampa family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group, your divorce lawyer Tampa, to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected]