A Court Service is a smaller scale investigation designed to focus on specific allegations or information and/or critical, immediate issues. Court Services, as opposed to full-scale Custody Evaluations, may lead to a quicker, more peaceful resolution of issues regarding children.
Just the Facts Please
Court Services are especially helpful at the beginning of a case when new rules and boundaries need to be set. Court Services provide information to help the Judge make temporary orders while you work through the process, and/or often give each of you the opportunity to tell your story to a caseworker who, in conjunction with your attorney, can further guide you through this difficult parenting time.
Unlike a detailed Custody Evaluation, Court Services provide a factual snapshot of the current situation and create time for reflection and planning for the future of you and your children. If you and the other parent have stopped communicating, it is likely you are both making negative assumptions about the other's actions and motives. A Court Service gives you the opportunity to get the facts about issues you are concerned about from an objective, experienced professional. Oftentimes, that works to open the door to real communication so that you can move through this process in a better way for your children.
What you need to know
Only a judge may initiate a court service. 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/litigants to agree to a Court Service without the agreement of Family Court Services.
Consult with FCS to initiate agreed services. If litigants and/or their attorneys would like to agree to a Court Service, they must come to our 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. - 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 Court Service 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 and parties 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 Court Service will not be assigned or initiated until the attorneys and parties have participated in intake and all fees are paid. Unless otherwise ordered by the court, the Court Service will not be assigned or initiated until all attorneys and parties have participated in intake, and all Court Service fees are paid in full. You will be given a fee slip at intake and you will pay the fees to Tarrant County Child Support Services on the second floor of the Family Law Courthouse, across the foyer from Family Court Services offices.
Orientation 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.
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 may be rescheduled.
It is the attorney’s 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 failed to take the necessary steps to get court services started and completed in a timely manner.
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.
Shorter time frame for completion of services. The time frame for completing a Court Service will usually be less than for a complete Custody Evaluation investigation. However, in order to meet an expedited due date the fee will need to be paid immediately and the parties will need to cooperate with scheduling. Generally we will need 6 weeks to complete Court Services involving interviews and home visits.
Usually no written report and no custody recommendation. Unless otherwise ordered, no written report is issued with a Court Service. A caseworker cannot make primary care, custody or access plan recommendations and may not be able to make recommendations as to other substantive issues in the case with these limited services.
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 and payment for the cost of copying (currently 50 cents per page) - 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 unless otherwise ordered by the court. Under no circumstances may FCS provide copies of CPS records, even by court order.
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 a 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.
Attorney conferences. When a court service investigation has been completed, the caseworker may set a conference with the attorneys/pro se parties to review his/her findings prior to the next court date. This process is intended to inform attorneys/pro se parties of the caseworker’s findings and help in settlement decisions.
Court Services may be rolled into a Custody Evaluation. If, after completion of a Court Service it is determined that a full Custody Evaluaton is needed, FCS will usually assign the same caseworker who performed the Court Service to complete the Custody Evaluation. All fees paid for the Court Service shall be applied towards the Custody Evaluation fee.