FL Parental Responsibility Social Investigations

Social investigations, formerly called custody evaluations, assess each parent’s ability to meet their children’s best interests.

Social investigators make recommendations about parental responsibility and time-sharing to judges, who then decide final judgments.

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Common reasons for social investigations

Cases involving domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, mental illness, long-distance relocation or a child with special needs all require social investigations.

When one party calls the other's parenting into question, the court often orders an investigation so judges have accurate, unbiased information.

In addition, a parent or guardian ad litem can request an investigation, and a mediator can recommend one, but the judge ultimately decides whether to order it.

Selecting and paying an investigator

In most counties, social investigations are conducted by court-approved forensic psychologists. Social workers, family therapists and qualified staff from child-placement agencies or from the court also conduct investigations.

Parents must pay the investigator’s fees, unless they have an income-based fee waiver. The judge decides if parents can use a court-provided investigator at a reduced cost, or if they must hire a private investigator.

The court order specifies how parents must divide the fee. For both court-provided and private investigations, parents must pay before the investigator begins, usually within 15 days of the order.

Court-provided investigators are assigned on a rotating basis and cost $650 to $1,200 depending on your county.

When a private social investigation is ordered, parents (through their lawyers) agree on an investigator, whom the court must approve. If parents can’t agree, the judge appoints one. Private investigators generally charge between $2,000 and $15,000.

In high-conflict cases, parents commonly hire additional investigators to review or challenge findings. Each parent can spend $50,000 or more on social investigations.

What happens in a social investigation

The judge will give the investigator a deadline for completion, usually within 45 to 120 days (though the investigator can ask for an extension).

The judge might request a particular focus, but investigators can inquire about anything relevant to the children’s welfare.

The investigator will evaluate the parents and children in the case using tools like:

  • Psychological assessments
  • Scheduled and surprise home visits (also called home studies)
  • Interviews
  • Observations of parent–child interactions
  • Reviews of social media activity
  • Academic, medical and criminal record checks

In addition, the investigator might interview:

  • Other children in each parent's home
  • Step-parents, grandparents and other adults in parenting roles
  • Child care providers
  • Doctors and therapists
  • Teachers and school counselors
  • Parents’ employers and co-workers
  • Character references submitted by parents
Special circumstances

Investigators can recommend that the judge order drug testing, substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and other interventions to protect children’s welfare. They must always report child abuse.

When any of these issues arise, the investigator requests a status conference with the judge and the parents. Investigators also request a status conference when parents need clarification on the process or do not comply with the investigation.

At this conference, scheduled for as soon as possible, the investigator explains their concerns and parents can ask questions. The judge may issue further instructions, including any necessary protections for the children.

Report and recommendation

To close the process, the investigator writes a report for the judge that includes recommendations for responsibility and parenting time. The report can only be accessed by people involved in the case.

The report compiles the information from the investigation and assesses each parent's:

  • Mental health
  • Ability to co-parent
  • Relationship with the children
  • Ability to support the children’s needs (physical, emotional, academic, social, etc.)
  • Strengths and weaknesses as a parent

In addition, the report assesses the children’s mental health and may include their time-sharing preferences.

The investigator also makes recommendations for the parenting plan and time-sharing arrangement. They may also recommend parenting coordination or counseling for parents and children. The report does not include recommendations for child support or other financial issues.

Social investigation reports in Florida are especially lengthy; it's common for a report to be more than 150 pages.

The investigator must submit their report to the court and to parents at least 30 days before the hearing at which it will be reviewed.

Parents who object to a report can question the investigator during trial. They can also hire other professionals to review and challenge the report and serve as expert witnesses.

Tips for parents going through a social investigation
  • Prepare with an attorney or legal professional.
  • Take all interactions with the investigator seriously.
  • Be professional and courteous during phone calls and meetings, and in emails.
  • Be on time for all meetings, interviews and home visits.
  • Comply with all investigator requests in a timely manner.
  • Always show that your children are a top priority in your life.
  • Be honest.
  • Recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a parent.
  • Try not to speak negatively about the other parent.
  • Don't tell your children what to say to the investigator.
  • Understand that the investigation is not meant to interrogate or punish you, but to determine what’s best for your children.
Staying organized

Social investigations add complexity and stress to an already difficult process. Effective preparation and organization are essential.

Throughout your case, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft custody schedules, keep a log about interactions with the other parent, and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, time-sharing calendars, a digital journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you’re prepared for whatever arises in your journey to parental responsibility and time-sharing in Florida.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

Make My Florida Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

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Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

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