Determining the Best Interests of the Child - Utah

Date: September 2023

Guiding Principles

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 80-2-601; 80-4a-201(1)(c), (2) 

It is the purpose of this part to protect the best interests of children, offer protective services to prevent harm to children, stabilize the home environment, preserve family life whenever possible, and encourage cooperation among the States in dealing with the problem of abuse or neglect.

It is in the best interests and welfare of a child to be raised under the care and supervision of the child's natural parents. A child's need for a normal family life in a permanent home and for positive, nurturing family relationships is usually best met by the child's natural parents. Additionally, the integrity of the family unit and the right of parents to conceive and raise their children are constitutionally protected. The right of a fit, competent parent to raise their children without undue government interference is a fundamental liberty interest that has long been protected by the laws and Constitution and is a fundamental public policy of this State.

It is also the public policy of this State that children have the right to protection from abuse and neglect, and that the State retains a compelling interest in investigating, prosecuting, and punishing abuse and neglect. Therefore, the State, as parens patriae, has an interest in and responsibility to protect children whose parents abuse them or do not adequately provide for their welfare. There may be circumstances where a parent's conduct or condition is a substantial departure from the norm and the parent is unable or unwilling to render safe and proper parental care and protection. Under those circumstances, the State may take action for the welfare and protection of the parents' children.

Best Interests Factors

Citation: Ann. Code § 80-4-303

If a child is not in the physical custody of their parent or parents, the juvenile court, in determining whether parental rights should be terminated, shall consider the following:

  • The physical, mental, or emotional condition and needs of the child and the child's desires regarding the termination, if the juvenile court determines the child is of sufficient capacity to express their desires
  • The effort the child's parent or parents have made to adjust their circumstances, conduct, or conditions to make it in the child's best interests to return the child to the child's home after a reasonable length of time, including the following:
    • Payment of a reasonable portion of substitute physical care and maintenance, if financially able
    • Maintenance of regular parent-time or other contact with the child that was designed and carried out in a plan to reunite the child with the parent or parents
    • Maintenance of regular contact and communication with the custodian of the child
  • Any other factor that the juvenile court considers relevant in the determination of whether to terminate parental rights

For purposes of this section, the juvenile court shall disregard incidental conduct, contributions, contacts, and communications.

Other Considerations

Citation: Ann. Code § 62A-4a-201(3)

When the Division of Child and Family Services intervenes on behalf of an abused, neglected, or dependent child, it shall consider the child's need for protection from immediate harm and the extent to which the child's extended family may provide needed protection. Throughout its involvement, the division shall utilize the least intrusive and least restrictive means available to protect a child to ensure that children are brought up in stable, permanent families, rather than in temporary foster placements under the supervision of the State.