Psychology and Law

Volume 10 of the series Perspectives in Law & Psychology pp 339-372

Best Interests of the Child

New Twists on an Old Theme
  • Marsha B. LissAffiliated withChild Exploitation Section, U.S. Department of Justice
  • , Marcia J. McKinley-PaceAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, George Mason University

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King Solomon may have been the first judge to determine a child’s custody; the standard he verbalized focused on equity, the sharing by each of two women in the physical custody of the child. In reality, King Solomon was testing the two women in order to determine which woman was the true mother and what was in the best interests of the child. So too, in the 1990s, judges in family law courts around the United States have had to make decisions about children’s lives in new and unusual situations. These decisions cover a wide range of issues (see Elrod, 1994, 1995, for a comprehensive review of court decisions and state statute revisions). Some are adoption cases, others, custody or visitation cases. Some are brought by one or more of the numerous adults vying for the custody of a child; in others, older children themselves have brought the cases to court. Some cases involve the creation of new families; others, the dissolution of what were once intact families or relationships. Some types of cases did not even exist prior to the last decade. Despite the wide range of issues they address, however, these cases share several common dimensions. In each case, the judge has had to invoke a definition or concept of the family and choose a standard for defining the child’s “family.” In some cases, but certainly not all, psychologists and other mental health professionals have been involved in evaluations and decision making.