Florida Child Custody Social Investigators

Social Investigator

Social Investigator

Time-sharing (a/k/a Custody) issues are among the most difficult issues to litigate in Florida family law cases. In most cases, for obvious reasons, Florida Courts disfavor children testifying in Court. Facts and testimony about  the best interests of children can come from a variety of sources, i.e. parents, teachers, friends of family. But how do you directly communicate the wishes of children, or provide an objective recommendation about what is in the best interests of children in a time-sharing dispute? In some cases, appointment of a social investigator can be the answer.

What is a Social Investigator?

The definition of who can perform a social investigation in Florida is quite broad. Florida Statute Section 61.20 defines a social investigator as “….qualified staff of the court; a child-placing agency licensed pursuant to s. 409.175; a psychologist licensed pursuant to chapter 490; or a clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, or mental health counselor licensed pursuant to chapter 491.”  The Courts in the Fourth Judicial Circuit in Jacksonville, Florida have interpreted “qualified staff of the court” to also include experienced family law attorneys. 

The type of social investigator the court appoints, or that a party asks the court to appoint, depends on the facts of the particular case. If, for example, there are allegations of mental health or substance abuse issues in the case, a psychologist or licensed mental health counselor will be the best choice to make recommendations about a parenting plan that is in the children’s best interest. If there is no substance abuse or mental health issues, then an attorney social investigator can be utilized to make recommendations to the court.

What type of Social Investigator Should the Court Appoint?

If there is substance abuse, child welfare or mental health issues, then, in my opinion, a psychologist or licensed mental health counselor, should be appointed. If there are no serious issues in the case, other than disagreements about the structure of a parenting plan, then an attorney social investigator may be more appropriate.

In Jacksonville, Florida the price range for a psychologist or licensed mental health counselor to act as a social investigator starts at $2500.00 and ranges up to $8,000.  For all but a few people, that is a significant amount of money and may be out of the reach for some families going through child time-sharing disputes.

An attorney social investigator in the Jacksonville, Florida area costs significantly less than a psychologist or licensed mental health counselor with price ranges to act as a social investigator averaging between $1000 to $2500.  If you are gathering facts, or trying to present evidence that may be difficult to admit in a case, an attorney social investigator can be the best option. Attorneys are trained to gather, organize, and present facts and information in a clear and concise manner. Attorneys are also accustomed to working with deadlines.  Attorney social investigators typically produce custody evaluation reports quicker than non-lawyer social investigators.

Should I Ask for a Social Investigator?

In my practice, I favor the use of social investigators only when there are mental health issues that require an expert opinion, or there are complex sets of facts which are difficult to present through testimony or admissible evidence. For example, if there is a large volume of hearsay or otherwise inadmissible evidence, a social investigator can get inadmissible evidence before the court. Fla Stat. 61.20 states “…court may consider the information contained in the study in making a decision on the parenting plan, and the technical rules of evidence do not exclude the study from consideration.” Emphasis Added

There are many cases where it may be unwise to seek to appoint a social investigator.  If a party is able to clearly and credibly communicate his or her position on parental responsibility issues, though the use of direct testimony, and third party witness, and there are no serious mental health or child welfare issues, a social investigator may not be appropriate. Why? When a social investigator is appointed, the parties lose a large part of the control of the message being presented to the court. A social investigator is a third party neutral, who will in many cases, make recommendations that are contrary to a party’s desired outcome. If you have a strong case to begin with, then it is unwise to introduce an unpredictable element into the case or lose control of your message.

Contact The Taylor Law Office

If you have questions about social investigators in the Jacksonville, Florida area, please contact us at 904-339-5298 or through this website. Your first consultation is free.



Holding it Together in Divorce

Holding it Together in Divorce

As a divorce attorney, I am in a unique position to witness the impact of the divorce process on people’s lives. People going through divorce should never underestimate the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual toll of the divorce process. While it is next to impossible to eliminate all of the stress associated with divorce process, what you do or don’t do can have a significant impact both on you and your case. Based on my experience, if you follow the suggestions below, you will minimize the negative impact of the divorce process on your life.

Physical Health in Divorce

It is common for individuals facing a stressful situation or life event, such as divorce, to engage in bad health habits such as increased alcohol or junk food consumption. However, as most of us know, reliance on vice, is counter-productive. Instead, channel the negative emotion associated with divorce into exercise and healthy eating.

Exercise is probably the best thing you can do to alleviate the stress of divorce. A long run or walk will reduce physical tension created in the body from stressful situations. Stretching and yoga are also effective tools for stress reduction. Whatever form of exercise you choose, it is important to do it on a regular basis. I recommend at least three times per week.

Financial Issues

Divorce can have a major impact on finances. In most cases, divorce courts require that you equitably divide your assets, which means there is going to be less for both parties after the divorce process is complete. Given the economic realities of divorce, it is important to live as frugally as possible when going through the divorce process. People in the divorce should resist the urge to make “feel good” major purchases, such as a new car or wardrobe, during the divorce process. Instead, save your money to be prepared to establish a new household.

Obtain Legal Representation

The divorce process is more complex than most people realize. If assets and liabilities are not properly transferred, you run the risk of sustaining even greater losses in the divorce process. A lawyer can assist you with the technical legal issues associated with the divorce process. In some cases, a divorce lawyer can end up saving you money.

A lawyer’s objective opinion and neutrality can be just as important as assistance with legal issues. In most cases, people experience a high level emotion in the divorce process. When addressing parenting time issues involving children, or dividing property that an individual has worked their adult lives to accumulate, it is difficult not to get emotional. A good divorce lawyer can provide a realistic expectation of how a court might decide important issues, such as child custody, so you can know what is fair and reasonable. A lawyer can also help communicate your position in the courtroom and in settlement negotiations.

How to Hire a Divorce Lawyer

There are numerous divorce lawyers in Jacksonville, FL; the area in which I practice. Sorting through the different lawyers and law firms in your area can be daunting task. I suggest interviewing at least three different lawyers before making a decision.

While interviewing potential lawyers, take notes about substantive issues, such as fees, experience and the lawyer’s practice philosophy. Here are some questions to ask:

1) How long have you been practicing divorce and family law?

2) Will you be handling my case or will someone else?

3) What is your hourly fee?

4) Do you require a retainer before starting representation?

While a lawyer’s education and experience are important considerations, just as important, is whether you are comfortable with your lawyer. Your lawyer will be your guide, counselor and advocate. Pay close attention to how the lawyer makes you feel. Is the lawyer someone you can trust? Remember, you will likely be telling the lawyer very personal details about your life.

Parting Thoughts about Friends and Family

Maintaining a connection with friends and family during the divorce process is just as important as the tips listed above. Make time for old friends and family. By staying connected to the people who are close to you, you will not be going through the divorce process alone.

Getting in Touch with The Taylor Law Office

If you have questions about your divorce or  family law case, please contact us at 904-339-5298 or click on the Contact page above.   Your first consultation is free