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    CUSTODY EVALUATIONS

    A custody evaluation is an intensive investigation dictated by Section 107.101 of the Texas Family Code. Because of the invasiveness and the amount of time required for a custody evaluation, this service should be ordered only in those cases with severe or complex issues and as a “last resort." Court Services and the Cooperative Parenting Readiness/Parenting Coordination services should be utilized first. 

    No Stone Left Unturned

    A custody evaluation includes interviews of the parties, children, any other persons residing in the home of any party (and collateral references as needed); home visits; criminal, CPS, medical and psychological histories of all parties and any other persons residing in the home of any party. A recommendation as to primary care may be made after completing the elements listed in Section 107.109 of the Texas Family Code. A written report may be generated as set out below.

    A custody evaluation takes a microscopic view of the entire family.  Your children will be interviewed and observed in office appointments and/or home visits. We do our best to maintain the dignity of all involved, but we cannot skip steps.  The best way to avoid the potential invasiveness of a custody evaluation is to work with your caseworker to use the information to make compromises and improve communication with the other parent so agreements can be reached about your children. Our caseworkers are skilled and knowledgeable - they can help move you and your children through these hard times.

    what you need to know

    Only orders generated by the judge or agreed to by Family Court Services will be accepted. State Bar forms or ProDocs are not appropriate, nor is it appropriate for attorneys/parties to agree to a custody evaluation without the agreement of Family Court Services.

    Only a judge may initiate a custody evaluation. If parties and/or their attorneys would like to agree to a court service or a custody evaluation, all attorneys and parties must come to the FCS office to consult with Family Court Services, discuss the case, and obtain our agreement to the services. There is a caseworker on duty Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to handle these intakes and no appointment is necessary.

    Provide a copy of the order to FCS and appear for intake. We have no way of knowing that a custody evaluation has been ordered – all attorneys and parties must appear in our offices to provide us with a copy of the order and participate in intake. The intake process is the opportunity for the attorneys to present each side of the issues with the caseworker on duty. The intake gives Family Court Services a clear idea of what information or service is needed to assist the Court and the families involved in the family court system. All clients and attorneys must participate in intake in the Family Court Services office before services will begin.

    The custody evaluation will not be assigned or initiated until the parties have participated in intake and paid all fees. Attorneys and parties must participate in the intake process. The custody evaluation will not be assigned or initiated until all parties and attorneys have participated in intake, and all custody evaluation fees are paid in full. Pay the fees in the Tarrant County Child Support office on the second floor of the Family Law Courthouse, across the foyer from Family Court Services offices. A fee payment slip will be provided during the intake process.

    Orientation is required for all parties using any services through Family Court Services. Orientation is free to the public and available every Wednesday, except for the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, and the week of Christmas. The Orientation begins at 8:45 a.m. sharp and lasts until approximately 11 a.m. Late arrivals who have been court ordered to attend may be turned away. Read more information about the orientation

    Co-parenting class is required for all parents ordered to participate in a custody evaluation.  Instructions for registering for Co-parenting Essentials at the Parenting Center.  There are other courses that will meet this requirement but be sure to verify it with your caseworker before attending a different course.

    Personal Data Form. The Personal Data Form must be completed by the client in full at time of first scheduled office visit, or the office visit shall be rescheduled. Click here for a printable copy of the Personal Data Form. Personal Data Form (Spanish)

    It is the attorney’s/parties' responsibility to confirm payment of fees. FCS does not keep track of whether parties pay their fees. The judges generally do not grant continuances if parties have failed to pay or otherwise take the necessary steps to get a custody evaluation started and completed in a timely manner.

    A custody evaluaton investigation requires a minimum of 90 days. Assuming all parties cooperate in making and keeping appointments, a custody evaluation will take a minimum of 90 days from the date the fees are paid in full. Please set all follow-up hearings and conferences on a custody evaluation for at least 90 days out from the day the evaluation fees are paid in full by all parties.

    The caseworker must be timely notified of any court settings or other essential dates in which (s)he may be involved. We have no way of knowing when hearings or trials are set -- the attorney or pro se party must timely notify us. If you want the caseworker available to testify, please give adequate notice (as soon as you know, you should call or email the assigned caseworker). Local rules require that we receive the same notice time as any attorney in the case.  Failure to timely notify the caseworker means the caseworker’s presence cannot be guaranteed or required. Subpoenas are unnecessary to ensure that a caseworker will be available to testify – just give the caseworker timely notice.

    Subpoenas are not necessary.  As long as notice is timely received, the caseworker will make arrangements to be available for testifying if requested by an attorney or by a pro se party. The caseworker will appear for testimony without the necessity of being served with a subpoena. The caseworker’s records will be made available to attorneys upon advance notice, for the cost of copying (currently 30 cents per page) and no subpoenas are necessary for attorneys to obtain a caseworker's records. Pro se litigants may review the records in the FCS offices with advance notice; however, FCS does not release hard copies of the caseworker's records to litigants unless ordered to do so by the court.
    Due to privacy laws, FCS cannot provide medical, psychiatric or psychological, or criminal background records except by court order. Under no circumstances may FCS provide our un-redacted copies of CPS records, even by court order.

    Travel Costs must be paid in advance. The party will be required to pre-pay the estimated cost of any travel required for a home visit that is over 50 miles one-way. This includes mileage (currently 56 cents per mile), airfare, parking, taxis, meals ($40 per diem for a full day), gas, tolls, car rental, hotel, etc. The assigned caseworker will contact the paying and visiting party to organize logistics, determine costs and direct payment of those costs.

    Custody Evaluation reports shall not be distributed to litigants. For the protection of these families and their future, our courts have determined that copies of custody evaluation reports are not to be distributed to parties, even those parties representing themselves. Attorneys must sign an agreement not to distribute the custody evaluation report to parties or their agents.  The copies are for FCS, the attorneys, court-sanctioned professionals and court use only in the case in which the custody evaluation was ordered. An attorney may allow their client to read the custody evaluation report in his/her office.  However, FCS recommends that the best practice is for the attorney to discuss the custoday evaluation report in detail with the party and present the information in a way that best suits the client. Regardless, attorneys may not give a copy of the custody evaluation report to their client or allow the client to photograph or otherwise copy the report.  FCS and the courts recommend that attorneys use good judgment in presenting the sometimes difficult information in custody evaluation reports to their clients.  Pro se parties may read the custody evaluation report and take notes in the FCS offices, but may not have a hard copy, photograph or otherwise copy the report. Custody evaluation reports shall be filed with the court as directed by the court local rules and will not be available as a public record.

    Attorney conferences, custody evaluation recommendation letter, and written reports. When a custody evaluation investigation has been completed, the attorney or the pro se party will receive a letter from the caseworker stating the investigation is completed and designating a time frame for setting a conference with the caseworker to review his/her findings. This process is intended to inform attorneys/pro se parties of the caseworker’s conclusions and help in settlement decisions. If you find a written custody evaluation report is still needed, it needs to be discussed with the caseworker at the conference. Section 107.114(c) of the Texas Family Code does not require a written custody evaluation report earlier than five days before trial but the caseworkers will generally try to accommodate specific requests for a written report prior to that time for good cause. It is the attorneys' and pro se party’s responsibility to give the caseworker 30-day notice of final trial date if a written custody evaluation report is needed.

    Conclusion of custody evaluation. After the investigation and conference is completed, the caseworker will not engage in further investigation, monitoring, updates or addendums. If additional services or investigation become necessary after the caseworker has completed the initial services, you will need to obtain a new court order (either through the judge or by agreement with FCS)  for additional services and additional fees must be paid, prior to the investigation being re-opened.

     

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