3. Investigation

Before your hearing, the court will appoint someone (an investigator) to do an investigation. The investigator might be a court employee or someone from Child Protective Services or Social Services (typically, a social worker).

What to expect in an investigation

A home study 

An investigator will set up a formal home study. The investigator will:

  • Visit the home where the child will live
  • Interview the proposed guardian, and,  if appropriate, the child
  • Interview the parents, if needed
  • Review documents about the child (like school records and medical records)
  • Do a background check on you and all adults living in the home where the child will live to see if any of you has a record of neglect or abuse or a criminal record

The investigator will consider issues like where the child would go to school, your family situation, and any healthcare issues (including mental health). If the child is old enough and mature enough, the investigator may talk with them about the guardianship.

Report for the judge

illustration of some paper forms with signature

The court investigator's report summarizes all the information for the judge. It will say if the investigator thinks there was a need for a guardianship or if the child should stay with their parents. 

The report will have:

  • Recommendations about the case, including any concerns the investigator has
  • Recommendations for any steps the court investigator thinks would help, like an evaluation, medication, referral to social services, or emergency screening (if needed)

They may also recommend that the judge allows the parents to have visitation with the child if the judge appoints a guardian.

The court is usually required to charge parents and proposed guardians for the costs of guardianship investigations. If you would have trouble paying those costs, you can ask the court for a fee waiver. Even if you cannot get a fee waiver, the court or the county can waive repayment of all or part of these costs if payment would impose a hardship on the child.

The judge may decide, based on the investigator’s recommendation, another person’s request, or no request at all, to appoint a lawyer to represent the child. The child’s parents are required to pay as much of the cost of that lawyer as they can afford. Before it orders the parents to pay, though, the court has to have a hearing and figure out how much they can pay. The parents are entitled to go to the hearing and show the court the limits of their ability to pay. If the court finds that the parents cannot afford to pay all or part of the cost, the county is required to pay whatever the parents cannot pay.

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