What is the ‘best interests of a child’ principle?

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If you are involved in any legal proceedings that affect children, then you will hear the term ‘best interests’ crop up time and time again.

Whenever the court, an administrative authority, or legislative body, is involved in making a decision that affects a child, they must let their decisions be guided by what is in the best interests of the child.

In this article, we will find out where the term ‘best interests of a child’ originates from, what it means, and how you can prove what is in the best interests of a child.

If you require legal advice regarding family law, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of solicitors here at Freeman Jones Solicitors in Chester by calling us on 01244 506 444.

When was the ‘best interests of the child’ principle introduced?

The ‘best interests of a child’ is the core principle that is used to guide decisions and actions regarding the care of children.

In law, when the court makes decisions regarding children, the child’s welfare and best interests are the court’s paramount consideration.

The term derives from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (UNCRC). The convention states that:

‘In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.’

According to the UNCRC 1989, all courts of law, administrative authorities and legislative bodies should consider the ‘best interests of a child’ in all actions they take concerning children.

In UK law, the Children Act 1989 is an extremely important piece of legislation that was introduced during the same year to safeguard the rights and welfare of children.

What is considered the best interests of the child?

The best interests of a child will depend on the circumstances. For each different case, there may be many factors to consider when deciding what is in the best interests of the child.

To do something in a child’s best interests usually refers to making a decision according to what will most benefit the child’s general wellbeing.

The guiding principle of the Children Act 1989 is that the child’s best interests are of paramount importance in all decisions made.

Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 lays out a ‘Welfare Checklist’ which can be used to help to determine what is in the child’s best interests.

The seven points in the checklist are as follows:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
  • His physical, emotional, and educational needs;
  • The likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
  • His age, sex, background, and any characteristics of his that the court considers relevant;
  • Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
  • How capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
  • The range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.

How do you prove the best interest of the child?

When submitting evidence to prove that a decision is in a child’s best interests, it can be useful to consult the Welfare Checklist above and find evidence that proves that the decision supports as many of the points as possible.

The exact evidence that is relevant will depend entirely on the details of the case.

The welfare checklist is most commonly used in family law cases to help to decide which parent will have custody of the child or to agree on the details of a Contact Order.

When deciding on the best interests of a child the judge is likely to consider the following factors:

The child’s age

If a child is very young, under 18 months of age, then they may be more reliant on their mother, especially if she is breastfeeding the child. This would have a significant impact on the Court’s decision. For older children, the court will determine their level of understanding and then take into consideration their wishes and feelings if they decide they are mature enough to form their own opinions on the matter.

Consistency of care

The court will usually try to avoid causing too much disruption to a child’s life and aim to keep a child’s care and routine as consistent as possible. The benefits of consistency will of course be balanced against other factors, to ensure the child’s best interests are still being looked after.

Safety and wellbeing

The child’s safety and well-being are always considered to be of paramount importance in all decisions made. A court will not make any decisions that compromise a child’s safety.

Evidence of parental ability

The court will look for evidence of a person’s ability to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs. The court will need proof that the parent can meet the child’s most basic needs, including food, shelter, education, and medical care. They will also take into consideration the parent’s physical and mental health and wellbeing and their ability to provide the child with emotional support and parental guidance.

The best way to prove that you have a child’s best interests at heart is to give evidence that you have been actively engaged in their life and upbringing.

For further help or advice with family law, give our team of family law solicitors here at Freeman Jones Solicitors a call on 01244 506 444.

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Author Colin Freeman View Profile
Colin qualified as a solicitor in 1998. He specialises predominantly in family law, litigation / dispute resolution, wills, probate and settlement agreements and has notable cases reported in the Court of Appeal and High Court.
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