Social Study’s Role in Child Custody Disputes

A “social study” is a common tool court’s use to help determine the outcome of child custody disputes.  Texas Family Code Section 107.0511 specifies the minimum qualifications that a social study evaluator must meet.  In general, the evaluator must be a licensed social worker, counsel, family therapist or psychologist who meets the certain education and experience requirements.  Basic elements of a social study are specified in Section 107.0514 as follows:

  1. an interview, conducted in a developmentally appropriate manner, of each child at issue in the suit who is at least four years of age;
  2. observation of each child at issue in the suit, regardless of the age of the child;
  3. the obtaining of information from relevant collateral sources (e.g. school teachers);
  4. evaluation of the home environment of each party seeking custody of a child at issue in the suit or visitation with the child, unless the condition of the home environment is identified as not being in dispute in the court order requiring the social study;
  5. for each individual residing in a residence subject to the social study, consideration of any criminal history information and any contact with the Department of Family and Protective Services or a law enforcement agency regarding abuse or neglect; and
  6. assessment of the relationship between each child at issue in the suit and each party seeking custody of or visitation with the child.

When a court orders a social study, its cost is usually split by the parties.  In Bexar and surrounding counties, the typical cost is between $1,000 to $2,500 depending on the evaluator’s qualifications and the complexities of the situation.  Upon completion, the social study is filed with the court and becomes part of the case record.  It can be used at trial and is subject to the customary rules of evidence.

Author Jim Cramp is the founder and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm.  The Cramp Law Firm provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the greater San Antonio Region.