Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes that governs family matters requires the court to order a parenting plan in proceedings involving children. A parenting plan is a document created to govern the relationship between the parties relating to decisions made regarding the minor child(ren), and it must contain a detailed time-sharing schedule for the parents and the child(ren). The parenting plan may include issues concerning the child(ren) such as the child(ren)’s education, health care, social, physical, and emotional well-being.
In the 12th Judicial Circuit, a social investigation and parenting plan recommendation is an investigative process conducted by a mental health professional. The investigator is an impartial examiner that will assess each party, the child(ren), and any other necessary collateral sources in order to formulate an opinion as to how parents should share parental responsibility and recommend the best time-sharing arrangement for each parent and the child. After the assessment, the investigator will provide the court with a social investigation report that includes facts regarding all parties and a parenting plan recommendation to assist the court in making decisions that are in the best interest of and consider the special needs of the child involved.
Social investigations under the 12th Judicial Circuit’s reduced fee program are performed by professionals licensed by the State of Florida and are assigned from a Circuit approved list. They are qualified to provide the Family Court, the parties, and the parties’ attorneys with impartial and competent recommendations that focus on what is in the best interest of child(ren). They are authorized to conduct social investigations and parenting plan recommendations pursuant to section 61.20 of the Florida Statutes. They have knowledge, training and experience with issues common in family law cases, and they practice in accordance with the highest nationally established standards of professional conduct.
The court may order a social investigation and parenting plan recommendation:
If the court determines that the case and the parties meet the requirements to be eligible for a 12th Judicial Circuit reduced fee court appointed social investigation, the Family Division Case Manager will provide the parties with the name of the professional assigned to the case, as well as other pertinent information. Circuit court appointed social investigators provide services at a rate substantially reduced from private professionals. They are assigned to cases, in rotation, off of a list of 12th Judicial Circuit approved mental health professionals. Parties may only stipulate to a certain social investigator if the court orders a private social investigator to the case. All parties are required to cooperate fully with the court’s order and Circuit procedures.
The areas of assessment may include, but are not limited to any or all of the following:
The parenting plan provides detailed provisions concerning the child(ren) such as the child(ren)’s education, health care, social, physical, and emotional well-being. The social investigators appointed under this program will use the 12th Judicial Circuit’s approved parenting plans when making parenting plan recommendations. The financial responsibilities of each parent with respect to the child(ren)’s activities will not be addressed by the social investigator in the parenting plan. These sections of the parenting plan will be considered and addressed by the court.
The court has the responsibility and the final authority for all decisions. Any parenting plan agreed to by the parties or recommended by a professional must be approved by the court.
Court appointed social investigators provide standard, court-approved services to needy persons at the substantially reduced rate of $1,200.
Both parties will be expected to contribute to the costs of the social investigation as determined by the court and as specified in their court order.
Additional court appearances, depositions or proceedings requested by the parties are subject to the mental health professionals’ standard fee schedule and shall be paid by the requesting party pursuant to an agreement between the professional and the party.
For an application and more information about the 12th Judicial Circuit’s Social Investigation and Parenting Plan Recommendation Reduced Fee Program, please visit the "Family Division Programs Page", or contact Monica Ausborn at (941) 749-3600 x 7098.
If the judge determines that a social investigation and parenting plan recommendation is necessary, the parties may either agree to jointly and privately contract with a private social investigator or request that the court appoint an social investigator who has been approved by the 12th Judicial Circuit (herein referred to as “circuit investigator”) to provide a social investigation and parenting plan recommendation for a reduced fee. The court may also appoint a circuit investigator on its own motion.
If the parties use a circuit investigator, the judge will hear the evidence of each party’s ability to pay for or contribute to the costs of a social investigation.
If the parties privately contract for a social investigation, the investigator must be a psychologist licensed pursuant to Chapter 490, Florida Statutes; or a clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist or mental health counselor licensed pursuant to Chapter 491, Florida Statutes. Proof of licensure and a current resume and/or curriculum vitae of the evaluator must be included with the final report.
In accordance with Florida Statute 61.20, parties will be assessed a fee for the cost of a social investigation. The charge for an investigation conducted by a circuit investigator is $1,200. It is within the court’s discretion to determine the responsibility and ability of each party to pay for or contribute to this cost.
Unless the Order indicates otherwise, payment for the social investigation must be made directly to the circuit investigator within fifteen (15) business days of the parties receiving written notice of the circuit investigator assigned to the case.
If payment is not made within fifteen (15) business days, the circuit investigator shall submit to the case manager a Request For Status Conference, indicating that one or both parties have not paid in order for the investigation to begin.
There is no obligation on the part of the court or the case manager to assign cases to specific circuit investigators. Although generally assigned by rotation, the decision to use a particular circuit investigator rests with the court and the case manager. Neither the parties nor counsel may request a particular circuit investigator.
If the case has settled, the parties or their attorneys must give immediate written notice to the case manager before the case is assigned to a circuit investigator. If notice of settlement is received after the case is assigned to a circuit investigator, the social investigation will be completed as ordered until further order of the court.
Each social investigation and parenting plan recommendation must contain, but is not limited to, the following assessments/information:
Each circuit investigator must submit the completed social investigation report and a recommended 12th Judicial Circuit Parenting Plan attached to the Order for Social Investigation and Recommendations Regarding Parenting Plan to the case manager within seventy-five (75) days after the date of entry of the Order, and in no case later than thirty (30) days prior to the date set for trial, whichever should occur first.
The failure of a circuit investigator to meet deadlines will result in an imposition of a probationary period resulting in no further assignments for a period of time to be determined by the Family Administrative Judge.
The case manager will file the original report in the court file within two (2) business days of receiving the report from the circuit investigator and will mail copies to the parties or counsel.
All privately contracted social investigators shall submit their social investigation reports and parenting plans, attached to the Order, to the court and file the original with the Clerk of Court. The privately contracted social investigator is responsible for distributing copies of his/her report to the parties or counsel.
Mental health professionals must meet all licensure requirements and experience qualifications, as well as follow all application requirements, in order to be included on the 12th Judicial Circuit’s list for the Social Investigation and Parenting Plan Recommendation Program.
Upon the Expert Witness Review Committee’s approval of a professional to be included on the list, each applicant must be trained on the 12th Judicial Circuit’s policies and procedures. Contact the Family Court Manager for training materials and upcoming training opportunities.
Mental health professionals that are currently on the 12th Judicial Circuit list as a Custody Monitor or Custody Evaluator will not be required to re-apply for inclusion on the list for the Social Investigation and Parenting Plan Recommendation Program, as long as the professional meets the licensure, training, and experience criteria required for inclusion.
Professionals currently on the list must obtain training on the new parenting statute and must be trained as to the 12th Judicial Circuit’s policies and procedures to accept appointments under the Social Investigation and Parenting Plan Recommendation Program. Current professionals must submit proof of attendance of training on the new parenting statute and parenting plans prior to accepting their first appointment.
All professionals on the list must continuously update the Family Court Manager with their contact information.
Retain these records until the information contained therein is obsolete, superseded, or the administrative value is lost.