Dr. Martha Alaniz, Ph.D.
I have been working with attorneys and judges in various courts. I have completed over 100 studies for adoption and custody disputes. Each case is individual with it’s own set of circumstances and I take this work very seriously. I consider myself an advocate for the children involved in each study. My main concern is to determine what is in the best interest of the child, not what may make each parent comfortable.
I provide a variety of services:
• Court-Ordered Studies for Custody Disputes
• Court-Ordered Studies for Step-parent Adoptions
• Court-Ordered (or Private) Parent Facilitation
Social Studies / Custody Evaluations
Many social studies have been thrown out in court because the individual conducting the study was not licensed and or failed to meet minimum qualifications. This directly impacted the outcome of many cases.
I am licensed with the state of Texas, have completed over 100 Court-Ordered Social Studies, for judges and attorneys throughout the Rio Grande Valley and Central Texas. I have served as an expert witness in several court cases and have had a significant impact on the positive outcome of cases.
Follow this link directly to the Texas State website. TEXAS FAMILY CODE, SUBCHAPTER D. SOCIAL STUDY
Social Studies are court ordered when Judges would like additional information about parents, their parenting styles, living conditions, employment and educational backgrounds and your relationship status. These studies are conducted by licensed professionals who have experience and expertise with working with families and children. Custody evaluations are usually conducted in the home and involve completion of extensive questionnaires about your background, your children and others living in your home. During the process you will be asked to give the names and contact information of individuals who know you and your children. These individuals should be professionals including teachers, physicians, psychologist, therapist, child caregivers and others who know you and your children. Relatives may also be contacted to provide additional information. All of this information and recommendations will be placed in a report that will be filed with the court. This information along with other information presented to the judge during the custody hearing will the basis for the court’s custody decision.
What is a Home Study?
A social study is both a process and a document. It is an evaluation of the circumstances and condition of the child and the home of the individual requesting possession or conservatorship. The process involves a social worker conducting a series of interviews with potential conservators, family members, references and third party collaterals. The social worker will evaluate all aspects of a prospective family’s life, including their health, social, family, employment background and disciplinary practices with their own children and children in the prospective home. This evaluation provides the court with a picture of the family, its dynamics, and the current abilities of the prospective conservators’ abilities to meet their children’s needs.
Why Have a Social Study Conducted?
The court may order the preparation of a home study on any person requesting conservatorship or possession of a child. This may be in the case of adoption, disputed custody in a divorce or request to change the custody arrangement of a child by an interested party. The Social Study, provided by the evaluator is an augment to the legal and judicial process. When conducted in custody cases it can help families avoid a court battle, or if a trial cannot be avoided, it can provide the court with valuable insights into the family dynamics. Many evaluation reports contain a recommendation, to the court, outlining parental responsibilities for the children and a suggested parenting and custody arrangements. It may also contain suggestions for counseling or other family services to address issues identified in the evaluation. The evaluation can help facilitate a settlement between the parties. If an agreement is not reached and a trial is necessary, recommendations are made to the court to help determine the children’s best interests. This evaluator’s report is only one factor in the court’s decision. The report is considered along with the evidence presented by attorneys, other professionals, case law, and other legal and judicial factors involved in the case.
How is the Study Conducted?
I use the following tools to conduct the study:
- Interviews with children, parents, family members and others interested parties
- Questionnaires – provided to potential adoptive or separating parents.
- Home Visits – to observe living conditions and to determine appropriateness of the home.
- Collateral Interviews – references and other professionals involved with the family
- Document reviews – relevant documents related to the parents, children or other involved individuals.
When this process is completed, and all the information from interviews, questionnaires and other information are consolidated into a written report. This written document, the “social study”, is prepared by the evaluator and filed with the court.
The Social Study Report
The report is the actual document filed with the court containing the social workers finding and conclusions based on the study process. It contains a description of the parenting abilities, living conditions, and financial ability of the prospective conservator(s). This report will also contain information about the social history and background as well as the physical, mental and emotional capacities of the prospective conservator(s) and other household members. It will provide the court with a picture of the family functioning at the current point in time. The report will contain an assessment of the parents’ ability to meet the child’s needs and will include suggested custody and/or visitation arrangements when parents are separated.
Sec. 107.0514. ELEMENTS OF SOCIAL STUDY. (a) The basic elements of a social study under this subchapter consist of:
(1) a personal interview of each party to the suit;
(2) an interview, conducted in a developmentally appropriate manner, of each child at issue in the suit who is at least four years of age;
(3) observation of each child at issue in the suit, regardless of the age of the child;
(4) the obtaining of information from relevant collateral sources;
(5) evaluation of the home environment of each party seeking conservatorship of a child at issue in the suit or possession of or access to the child, unless the condition of the home environment is identified as not being in dispute in the court order requiring the social study;
(6) for each individual residing in a residence subject to the social study, consideration of any criminal history information and any contact with the Department of Family and Protective Services or a law enforcement agency regarding abuse or neglect; and
(7) assessment of the relationship between each child at issue in the suit and each party seeking possession of or access to the child.
(b) The additional elements of a social study under this subchapter consist of:
(1) balanced interviews and observation of each child at issue in the suit so that a child who is interviewed or observed while in the care of one party to the suit is also interviewed or observed while in the care of each other party to the suit;
(2) an interview of each individual residing in a residence subject to the social study; and
(3) evaluation of the home environment of each party seeking conservatorship of a child at issue in the suit or possession of or access to the child, regardless of whether the home environment is in dispute.
(c) A social study evaluator may not offer an opinion regarding conservatorship of a child at issue in a suit or possession of or access to the child unless each basic element of a social study under Subsection (a) has been completed. A social study evaluator shall identify in the report any additional element of a social study under Subsection (b) that was not completed and shall explain the reasons that the element was not completed.
I am licensed with the state of Texas, have completed over 100 Social studies and provide court-ordered social studies for judges and attorneys. Contact me for more information: (956) 266-2808
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