The foundational tenet that is supposed to be used in Massachusetts when deciding who gets custody of a child is to answer the question, what is in the best interest of the child? But how best interest defined is not always easy. Many may have legitimate arguments for why they should be granted custody of a child.

With the courts having the authority to make the ultimate decision, chances are good that someone will walk away unhappy. Child custody mediation represents one way of resolving such disputes in many situations. But it doesn’t work in every case. The struggle that a couple in South Carolina is waging for custody of a great-grandchild may serve as a case in point.

Navigating The Complexities Of Child Custody: Defining The Best Interest

At the heart of the case are three children born to the couple’s drug addict granddaughter. The oldest child, a 5-year-old boy, is already in the great-grandparents custody. One of the boy’s sisters lives with an aunt. A third infant girl is in the care of another foster couple. The great-grandparents want custody of the child. A hearing is scheduled later this month.

The great-grandparents are making the argument that they are family and that it would be in the best interest of the baby to keep her with them. They also note that they have already been vetted by the state’s Department of Social Services, been approved for foster care and have had four other children placed with them by the DSS.

But DSS officials are expected to recommend that it would be best for the baby to stay with the foster couple that has cared for her from birth. They say there are a lot of tensions in the great-grandparents’ home. Chief among them is the 5-year-old boy. He was born addicted to cocaine, has a form of autism and has been diagnosed as bi-polar, all of which make him a special needs child requiring constant attention.

In the end, state officials say that while they prefer to place children with family members, that can’t always happen.

The great-grandparents say they hope to make it clear during the hearing that conditions in their home aren’t as dire as state officials believe. In their minds, it remains in the best interest of their great-grandchildren for them to be with their own family.