In a first of its kind case in New Jersey, a sixteen-year-old transgender child won the right to change his name to reflect his gender identity.
In Sacklow v. Betts, the child’s mother petitioned the court to change the name of her sixteen-year-old transgender child from Veronica to Trevor. The child’s mother certified that the name change was in Trevor’s best interest because the “child is transgender, identifies as male, and has been undergoing treatment for gender dysphoria.” Trevor’s father initially opposed the proposed name change, arguing that a hearing was necessary to determine whether the name change was in the best interest of the child. After the court heard testimony from Trevor and his father, Trevor’s father indicated his willingness to consent to Trevor’s name change, despite having lingering concerns about whether it was in his best interests.
Trevor’s mother and father were married in 1996 and divorced in 2011; both parents share joint legal custody of Trevor and he primarily lives with his mother. Trevor’s mother certified that at an early age, Trevor “did not conform to the gender norms of a young girl of that age” and that she “believed, as did [Trevor’s father] that [the child] was simply a quintessential ‘tomboy.’” Once Trevor entered into the sixth grade, Trevor’s parents noticed an overall decline in his mental health and well being, noting that “Trevor went from being a good student and never getting into trouble to ‘getting bad grades, lying, vandalizing school property, and fighting.’” Trevor was then referred to his school district’s Child Study Team and began to receive therapy from a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Six months after beginning therapy, Trevor declared to his family that he was transgender and that he identified as male. Both parents asserted they struggled to understand Trevor’s gender identity, and Trevor began seeing a psychologist who would later diagnose him with gender dysphoria. After receiving this diagnosis, Trevor began to make the physical and mental transition from female to male.
During this period, Trevor requested to his family that he be called Trevor, rather than Veronica. Trevor’s family complied with his wishes, with the exception of his father, step-mother, and step-siblings. Moreover, a court previously ruled that Trevor should be permitted to “be examined by a professional specializing in the diagnosis and care of transgender youth” and as a result of the examination Trevor began to receive hormone treatments.
The court observed the significance of the name change of a child compared to that of an adult, by noting that “[a]dults can petition the court for a name change or consent to gender reassignment surgery or treatment. However, children are unable to make such decisions on their own unless they have been deemed emancipated.” Furthermore, while “[m]ost states will require children to defer to their parents’ wishes regarding decisions that affect the child’s life and well being … courts routinely become involved in decisions that affect the child’s life and well-being where there is a dispute between the child’s parents as to the appropriate course of action for the child.”
After giving a brief overview of public policy considerations, the court analyzed seven factors it considered in deciding whether to permit Trevor’s name being changed. The first factor considered was the age of the child, with the court finding great consideration be given to the same as he was a child of sixteen, going on seventeen years of age. The second factor the court examined was the length of time Trevor had been using his chosen name, with the court concluding that the five years was a significant length of time. Third, the court assessed “any potential anxiety, embarrassment, or discomfort that may result from having a name that the minor child does not feel corresponds with his or her outward appearance and gender identity.” Although Trevor did not testify to any explicit experiences of violence against him based on his gender identity, the court noted that there was a number of studies finding a significant rate of bullying against transgender youth, as well as the fact that gender identity is now included in the federal hate crime statute. Next, the court reviewed the psychological and medical care that Trevor had received relating to his gender identity, finding that the amount of treatment received supported that he was “fully committed to living his life as a male.” Afterwards, the court considered how Trevor is identified by his family, as well as at school and within the community, determining that Trevor is referred to as Trevor by almost everyone except when he is with his father’s family or by a substitute teacher. Subsequently, the court analyzed the reasons Trevor was seeking the name change, finding it was merely for personal reasons and to match his gender identity, and not to avoid criminal prosecution or to defraud creditors. Finally, the court scrutinized whether both parents consented to the name change, concluding that Trevor’s mother and father both did.
After considering the above seven factors, the court concluded that it was in Trevor’s best interest for Trevor’s legal name to be Trevor rather than Veronica, and thus, the court granted the name change.
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