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How a child's best interests are determined

Custody battles can be hard on everyone involved, especially on children. Consideration of a child's best interests is the priority of the court system in Massachusetts. The definition of the best interests has not been standardized, but it typically means the consideration of actions and conditions that will best address a child's needs. Many factors are taken into consideration as decisions about custody and parenting time are made.

Certain guiding principles are used in determining the best interests in a child custody case. The integrity of the family situation is often considered as a judge recognizes the potential negative impact of removing a child from their home. However, a child's health and safety is also a frequently cited concern as well. An assurance of proper care and guidance is an important factor in determining best interests as well.

Factors taken into consideration may include family relationships and emotional ties between a child and those in the home, especially other siblings. A parent's ability to provide a safe environment and appropriate food, clothing, and medical attention can also be considered. A child's health needs, both physical and mental, may play a role in decisions. Similarly, a parent's mental or physical health could influence the court's decisions. Domestic violence is also seriously considered as custody issues are decided. In Massachusetts, a child's wishes may be considered in deciding custody if the child is at least 12 years old. Massachusetts officials endeavor to make decisions in a timely manner so that planning for a child's permanence in a home can be completed.

A parent involved in custody proceedings may endeavor to seek changes to an existing order if there is an awareness of detrimental conditions at the home in which the child normally resides. A lawyer may be helpful for articulating these concerns clearly to the court.

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

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