Reviewed Work: Beyond the Best Interests of the Child by Joseph Goldstein, Anna Freud, Albert J. Solnit

Strauss, Peter; Strauss, Joanna B.

In Beyond the Best Interests of the Child, three distinguished social science professionals have crafted out of evident compassion for the child a brief yet subtle program for the law's resolution of these difficult cases. Anna Freud and Albert J. Solnit are pre-eminent figures in child psychoanalysis and psychiatry, respectively, who insist that law recognize both what is known about child development and, as importantly, what is not known and cannot be predicted with certainty. Joseph Goldstein, a distinguished professor of law who has also acquired professional psychoanalytic training, seems ideally placed for the arduous task of smelting sound legal policy from the social science ore. Their book, warmly hailed by an impressive array of judges, child welfare professionals and others concerned with children, insists that the child's perspective must be controlling in any judicial proceedings to decide custody issues.

In sum, we view much of what the authors say as extraordinarily helpful. The exhortation that courts would ordinarily do best to leave well enough alone -- to distrust their capacities for bettering even apparently harmful family situations, and consequently to follow a policy of repose -- is forcefully grounded and long overdue. But lawyers who understand and accept the authors' imperative concerns, whose highest value now in custody matters is keeping their clients out of court, may come to question this book for its failures to consider both the values -- values to children as well as to their parents -- of planning and compromise, and the impact of changed law upon behavior that does not presently come to court or find reflection in trouble cases. The book takes only the first, creative step towards important legal growth. So understood, its insights may mark the spot from which further analysis will occur. But initial creativity, the bold shift of perspective, must be channeled and refined before effective legal regimes can be shaped from it. That job remains to be done.


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Columbia Law Review Association, Inc.
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May 5, 2016