Child Custody Home Inspection: In child custody cases, the courts will have the home of each parent (or party seeking custody) inspected by the appropriate agency. Usually, the office of Child Protective Service (CPS) will be responsible for conducting the home inspection and reporting back to the court on it. The purpose of these inspections is to ensure that the home environment is safe and suitable for the child(ren) to spend any considerable amount of time there.
What is a Child Custody Home Inspection?
Depending on your particular jurisdiction, the term used may be “home study”, “home inspection”, “social study”, home evaluation” and so on. The overall objective is the same no matter the jurisdiction or the term used. The objective is to see the home environment and the child with each parent in that environment to see if the custody best interest’s standard factors are being met. Home inspections are different from custody evaluations. Custody evaluations are typically conducted by a mental health expert/professional. Home inspections, on the other hand, are usually done by social workers, child protection professionals and the like. Some custody evaluations include a home inspection component so the mental health professional may in fact have the interviews done in the home to cover both, however.
How You Can Use the Inspection to Your Advantage
Although a home visit by CPS is meant to be objective, as a parent you could (and should) use the opportunity to present your circumstances in the best possible way to help your case. Be careful of course as you do not want to be too obvious that you are trying to unduly influence the worker. Be cordial and welcoming, for example but do not overdo it. Show the worker your child(ren)’s favorite space, activity or item. Schedule the appointment at a time when you and your child(ren) are engaged in an activity that you both enjoy. Be sure that the space in clean; that you have adequate food; that safety measures are in place and that no one who does not live in the home is not present at the time.
Show the worker how you encourage learning; how you discipline; nurture their development; support them emotionally and foster a relationship with the other parent. You can ask the worker questions. You can offer to provide evidence of your being “fit” and/or of the other parent being “unfit”. However, the way you present anything must not come across as negative toward the other parent so be mindful.
Use this opportunity to give the worker what he/she needs in the event they are called a witness in your case. But again, be careful because it can work both ways you must be mindful of what you say and how you say it in custody cases. Focus on the best interests of your child(ren) no matter what. If you do not know what that is, ask before the worker shows up to your home.
The Weight Given to Reports in Child Custody Home Inspection
The court defers to home inspection reports significantly. The court will rarely find that these reports (the worker’s account of what he/she saw) lack credibility. If there are specific facts the court wants the worker to focus on, they might ask them to do a supplemental or follow up visit. In addition, either party can request a follow up visit if they believe that something important was left out or overlooked. The guardian ad litem (or child’s attorney, advocate) can also point out omissions in the report and request another visit.
If either party objects to what is in the report there is recourse. They the opportunity will more than likely must “impeach” the worker that conducted the inspection. If the objection is to something someone else said, then the party must impeach that individual. Challenging the truth of what someone else said to the worker may be considered “hearsay”. These third-person statements are subject to being precluded under hearsay evidence rules.
The worker that does the report is human too, they make mistakes. Although they are given considerable deference, you must voice your concern with their method, their facts, etc. if you have any.
Home studies, or whatever they are referred to in your jurisdiction, are almost inevitable in child custody cases. No need to dread them, to avoid them or try to manipulate them in any way. You can use them to your advantage as long as you are prepared and informed on how to do that.
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