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The 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Section 39M: Dependency proceedings for abused, neglected and abandoned children; determination of child's best interest; petition for special findings

[Text of section applicable as provided by 2018, 154, Sec. 105.]

Section 39M. (a) For the purposes of this section, the following words shall have the following meanings unless the context clearly requires otherwise:-

''Child'', an unmarried person under the age of 21.

''Dependent on the court'', subject to the jurisdiction of a court competent to make decisions concerning the protection, well-being, care and custody of a child, for findings, orders or referrals to support the health, safety and welfare of a child or to remedy the effects on a child of abuse, neglect, abandonment or similar circumstances; provided, however, that ''court'' shall include, but not be limited to, the probate and family court and the juvenile court departments of the trial court; and provided further, that when issuing special findings under this section, a court shall be acting under the jurisdiction specified in this definition.

''Similar circumstances'', conditions that have an effect on the child comparable to abuse, neglect or abandonment including, but not limited to, the death of a parent.

(b) A child alleging that return to the child's country of origin is not in the child's best interest may petition the court for special findings. Upon reviewing the petition or complaint seeking special findings, any supporting affidavits and other evidence presented, the court shall issue findings of fact and rulings of law that shall determine whether the child who is the subject of the proceeding: (i) is dependent on the court; (ii) has suffered from abuse, neglect, abandonment or similar circumstances; (iii) may not be viably reunified with either or both parents due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or similar circumstances; and (iv) may not be returned to the child's or parent's country of nationality or country of last habitual residence because it is not in the best interest of the child. A court making a decision under this paragraph shall be acting as a juvenile court.

The health and safety of the child shall be of paramount concern. When considering the child's health and safety, the court shall consider whether present or past living conditions will adversely affect the child's physical, mental or emotional health.

(c) In addition to petitioning a court for special findings under subsection (b), the petitioner may request orders necessary to protect the child against further abuse or other harm by filing a complaint for an abuse prevention order under chapter 209A, by filing a complaint for support under section 32F of chapter 209 or seeking any other available remedy.

(d) A child who is the subject of a petition for special findings under subsection (b) or who is subject to an order under subsection (c) may be referred for psychiatric, psychological, educational, occupational, medical, dental or social services or for protection against trafficking or domestic violence. Participation in any referred services shall be voluntary.

(e) A court shall hear, adjudicate and issue findings of fact and rulings of law on any petition or complaint for special findings under this section as soon as it is administratively feasible and prior to the child reaching the age of 21 to serve the best interest of the child.

(f) The petitioner shall not be required to name as a respondent a parent with whom reunification may be a viable option.

(g) Nothing in this section shall prevent the divisions of the probate and family court or the juvenile court departments of the trial court from issuing similar findings of fact and rulings of law to those in subsection (b) in any other proceeding.

(h) This section shall be liberally construed to promote the best interest of the child.