Child custody disagreements tend to crop up when differences in ex-spouses’ parenting styles and philosophies become more apparent after divorce. When one household becomes two, one parent inevitably loses some control over the daily decisions that impact the kids, often leaving them uneasy about how their ex is parenting the children without them.
Parents who disagree on how to best support LGBT children may find themselves involved in contentious child custody battles. Many LGBT experts believe the United States family court system is still ill-equipped to handle complex child custody situations involving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.
Recent Case Highlights Potential Issues
A recent case in Arizona involved divorced parents sharing custody of three young children. When the mother supported her son’s request to wear a skirt to school, the father took her to court. He argued the mother was pushing female gender identification on the boy and requested sole legal custody and the right to make decisions about the child’s health care and education.
The family-court judge responded with injunctions forbidding the mother from allowing the boy to dress in female clothing, have “female-oriented” toys, use a girl’s name, or be referred to as “her” or “she.” Though the injunctions were supposed to be temporary, they remained in place for more than two years as the case was reviewed. Finally, the father was granted sole legal custody of all three children.
Some legal experts maintain that the courts just do not have the education they need to make informed decisions in the best interests of the children. They argue wearing short hair or boys’ clothing is not going to make a little girl transgender and vice-versa. However, without experience and education, the courts often fall back on these stereotypical and outdated notions of gender identity.
This child in this case was diagnosed with gender dysphoria – the conflict between the gender the child is biologically and the gender they feel they truly are – a year after the skirt dispute. Studies have shown that people with gender dysphoria are more prone to depression, anxiety and suicide. The Appeals court eventually recognized the father’s personal feelings may impact the way he parents the child, but awarded him legal custody despite this. Both parents were prohibited from discussing gender-identity issues with the child.
Clearly, more needs to be done to truly protect LGBT children at the center of custody disputes. A 2013 study found that without qualified expert opinions, courts more often supported the parent who encourages the child’s biological gender identity. Researchers also found many judges are making decisions about whether children have gender dysphoria without deferring to experts in this field.
The experienced family law attorneys at Burnham Law Group, LLC are well-equipped to handle complex LGBT child custody disputes. When parents disagree about how to best support an LGBT child, child custody negotiations can become heated – often at expense of the child’s emotional and physical well-being.