Over the last few months, issues impacting individuals who identify as transgender and non-binary are getting a lot of attention in the media and among some politicians. Sadly, because it's become a political issue; a lot of information is skewed to favor one political side or the other, which can result in misinformation for the public. For parents, especially divorced parents of children who are transgender or non-binary, this can present real challenges.
Although there have been transgender and non-binary individuals throughout history, researchers are still trying to learn as much as possible about gender transitions. Whether because of a greater social acceptance or other reasons, more children are expressing that they identify as transgender at a young age. For divorced parents, this can bring up tough decisions.
One parent may support the child's new identity and believe there are necessary medical procedures or treatments. The other parent may not agree, and believe the treatments will do damage, or are not understood enough to be practiced on their child. Additionally, several states are considering banning hormone and other treatments that some transgender children receive.
Frankly, I am not a medical professional so I do not have an opinion on the medical merits in these discussions, but as far as making decisions for children, it seems to me that they should be left to parents and not legislated. I am not for or against any choices parents make in this regard, but I think there are important things for divorced parents to be aware of and consider.
First, it should be noted that parents who share custody often share decision-making responsibilities, which usually include decisions on medical proceduresincluding common transgender treatments like hormone therapies and surgeries. If divorced parents share medical decision-making responsibilities, one cannot decide to allow or prevent their child to transition without the other parent agreeing.
For many, these issues align with their beliefs about religion and education. Parents may not agree with allowing their child to express their gender at school (another area that some politicians are trying to legislate), or one parent may believe that his or her religion forbids gender transitions, while the other parent may believe that it is important to allow it.
Whatever your personal beliefs, if they do not align with your ex's, the child likely cannot easily get any treatment in this area, which would favor the parent who is against it. However, if you are a divorced parent who feels that it is vital that your child transition, mediation with a trained professional can be an option, as it is cheaper than using lawyers and/or the courts. However, while mediation can present a less adversarial environment, mediators do not give legal advice and may not be looking out for your best interests.
Because of the vital importance of the issuewe are talking about medical procedures and your childyou may want to consult a lawyer and get a decision from a judge. In this type of situation, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to try to determine what the child needs, or ask for testimony from medical and psychiatric professionals. While this may be the best course of action, it can also be the most expensive.
Like any other issue between divorced parents, it is always easier and cheaper if you can come to terms without involving lawyers and/or the courts. However, this may not be possible for such an emotionally charged issue.
I'm sure disputes between parents over transgender and non-binary children will become more common in the coming months and years, and it will be interesting to see what decisions judges make and what precedents are set. It is hard to predict what the courts will do, but one thing seems certain: Whichever side of the issue you're on, it is imperative that you know your options and your rights sooner rather than later.
Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd., and is an advocate for the rights of fathers. He is the author of "Fathers' Rights," "Divorce Wars" and "How to be a Good Divorced Dad."
Leving can be found on Twitter and Instagram @Dadsrights