Degree Year

2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Politics

Advisor(s)

H.N. Hirsch

Committee Member(s)

Daniel Schultz
Jennifer Rosa Garcia

Keywords

Best interests, Custody, Individualism, Child welfare

Abstract

This thesis explores the guiding legal standard in child custody law, that custody should be decided 'in the best interests of the child.' I begin with the most common critique of the best interests standard: that it is too vague, allowing for the personal biases of judges to play too great a role in custody decision-making. I challenge this critique by examining the standard in a different context, shifting from divorce proceedings to the child welfare system, to ask how the vagueness of the standard is mobilized differently in child protective proceedings. I argue that it is not the individual biases of judges, but rather the historic, systemic biases, enabled by the vague standard, which predominantly harm families and children. I examine how bias, privacy, and poverty influence interpretations of the `best interests’ standard in a child welfare context, through the lens of individualism as a dominant legal and political norm in the U.S.

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