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Understanding the best interests of the child

Parents in Massachusetts may benefit from learning more about the factors that are generally used to determine the best interests of the child, as described by the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Family courts typically preside over cases that can significantly affect children's lives, including issues that involve custody determination and placement, terminating parental rights, permanency planning and safety and living conditions. Every state has laws requiring judges to consider the best interests of the child when making these decisions.

While there is no precise definition, determining the best interests of the child typically involves considering factors associated with the child's and parents' current circumstances. Judges are also expected to evaluate the guardian's capacity to parent the child. The well-being and safety of the child are top priority in these types of cases. Some of the principles that guide these decisions include a preference to avoid removing children from their home and a high value on family integrity.

If the child is to be removed from the home, there must be assurances that the child will still receive guidance, treatment and care that will foster personal development. Family courts in many states value timely permanency decisions. Massachusetts is one of 19 states that prioritizes guidelines focused on the safety, health and protection of the child. Additionally, courts typically consider emotional ties in the parent-child relationship, any history of domestic violence and the mental and physical needs of the parents and child in making these determinations.

Parents who have questions concerning legal custody issues may benefit from consulting a family law lawyer. Legal counsel may be able to investigate the situation and help determine the best approach to take that is in the best interests of the child. Some lawyers may act as an intermediary and assist with negotiating more amicable terms to the existing parenting plan.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway , "Determining the Best Interests of the Child", December 08, 2014

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