Accepted paper:

The Best Interests of the Child in a Multicultural Context


Caroline Simon (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Paper short abstract:

This paper studies the open legal concept of ‘The Best Interests of the Child’ that is now massively referred to by family justice and assesses the impact of cultural diversity in the definition of this concept by Belgian judges when dealing with children and families from a migrant background.

Paper long abstract:

The notion of 'The Best Interests of the Child' is one of the most mobilized concepts in family law and family justice. Cliché for some, key role for others, it still remains an open legal concept with fuzzy outlines that need to be shaped and delineated by the judges. If its vagueness certainly gives an influent power to the judges that have to fill the content of this general norm, it also leaves more room for considering the circumstances at stake in a multicultural family context and therefore to take the cultural background of the child into account when dealing with the case. The aim of this work is then to define, by means of an empirical methodology, how judges apprehend the notion of 'The Best Interests of the Child' in a situation of legal pluralism and to assess if they consider the cultural diversity as a relevant feature in their interpretation of the notion, and under which circumstances. To answer theses questions, I am developing my fieldwork in local court ('Justice de paix') and the youth section of civil court ('Tribunal de première instance, section jeunesse') in Belgium. I am also conducting numerous semi-structured interviews with family judges in order to evaluate the potential and the limits of the general concept of 'The Best Interests of the Child' when facing cultural diversity and families from a migrant background.

panel G39
Makers, brokers, breakers: children and young people in legally plural worlds (IUAES Commission on Legal Pluralism)