New Jersey Family Law Blog
Child’s Best Interest Standard Applied to Transgender Name Change Suit
Any time a New Jersey or Morris County court rules on any legal matter involving children, judges apply what is known as the “best interest standard” in order to determine what type of decision will most accurately reflect the best interests of the children involved. This has been true for quite some time now in matters such as child custody and visitation agreements and modifications, child support agreements and modifications, in-state and out-of-state relocation requests, domestic violence matters, and more.
However, thanks to the recent ruling made by the Middlesex County Chancery Division and the Honorable Marcia Silva, J.S.C., she determined that this same best interest standard shouldalso be applied to name change requests made by transgender children, or at the behest of their parents.
Morris County Family Law Firm Discusses “the Case of Sacklow v. Betts”
In the case of Sacklow v. Betts, mother Janet Sacklow petitioned the court to legally change the name of her daughter, Veronica, to Trevor. This petition was the result of several years of social work and therapy undergone by “Veronica” and her family, beginning when Veronica was in the sixth grade and began to experience very severe behavioral and emotional issues resulting from what was later diagnosed as “gender dysphoria.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is a conflict between an individual’s physical gender and the gender with which he or she identifies, and can often result in extreme discomfort, distress and problems functioning within society.
Following this diagnosis, Victoria began to undergo hormone treatments to suppress menstruation, and later testosterone therapy. While these treatments were approved by both parents, Veronica’s father and his family continued to refuse to refer to Veronica as “Trevor,” and at the outset of the lawsuit, argued that such a name change was not in Veronica’s best interests (although he later consented while still expressing concern).
Morristown Family Law Attorneys and “the Children’s Best Interest Standard”
As previously mentioned, when the initial lawsuit was filed requesting the legal name change from Veronica to Trevor, no such case had previously been decided by the courts, causing Judge Silva to first determine what factors she should consider when making her final ruling.
Upon deciding that the best interest standards used in matters such as child custody, visitation, and child support also should be applied to the case at hand, Judge Silva outlined several different “best interest” factors which she believed applied to this matter, those being:
- The child’s age.
- The child’s history of medical and mental health treatments.
- The child’s own reasons for requesting the name change.
- The length of time the child has been using their requested name.
- The name used by the child’s family, friends, social circles, school and community to refer to the child.
- The affect to the child’s mental health and stability should the name change be denied.
- The reasons either parent has to oppose to the name change (if any).
While these best interest factors are obviously not applicable in every situation, it is clear the factors listed above will each impact the child’s own mental health and “best interests” in some way.
After considering all of these factors, and how to best represent Victoria’s (now Trevor’s) best interests, Judge Silva ultimately ruled in favor of the name change stating, “Trevor has undergone hormone therapy and presents as a young man with facial hair, a muscular build, a head full of male textured hair, a deeper voice. To force him to legally keep the feminine name ‘Veronica’ would not be in his best interest.”
This case represents an important step in how our legal system views and treats gay, lesbian, and transgender children, and the many issues they continue to face as our society’s understanding and acceptance continues to grow.
Contact Our Morris County Family Law and Child Custody Attorneys Today
At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys have extensive experience helping families and parents to resolve all manner of family law issues in ways which both protect our clients’ best interests and the best interests of their children in towns across New Jersey and Morris County, including Madison, Denville, Florham Park, Hanover, Randolph, Morris Township, and Morristown.
The unique approach of our firm focuses on finding creative and constructive solutions to our clients’ family law and divorce issues such as child custody, child support, alimony, and the division of assets. Our first goal will always be to help you protect all that you have worked to achieve and the relationships you have built with your family, rather than tearing those things down through unnecessary, costly, and stressful litigation.
To speak with our office and our attorney team today in a comprehensive and confidential case assessment regarding your divorce and the legal issues related to your children, or any other kind of family law issue you may be facing, please contact us online, or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 718-7705.