Parents of transgender children face unique challenges when co-parenting. Navigating the legal difficulties and ensuring equal custody can be challenging without the help of an experienced family law attorney.
When parents disagree about how to medically treat a child who identifies as transgender, conflict can arise. Parenting transgender children in Texas has become a flashpoint, with some cases making the national news.
In 2022, transgender individuals, parents, and families became concerned when Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate parents with transgender teenagers.
Parents of transgender teenagers remain concerned that their children may be removed from their custody and placed into the state’s foster care system. This political escalation demonstrates the ongoing fight transgender children and parents have across Texas. Recent actions by the governor and state agencies have impacted child custody cases in Texas in which a child identifies as transgender.
A Texas Judge Rules on a Well-Known Transgender Custody Case
In a recent transgender parenting case, the child was declared male at birth. The child’s mother, a pediatrician, stated that the child identifies as a transgender girl. The child’s father claims the child is a boy. The mother filed a lawsuit seeking a modification of her custody agreement. She petitioned the court to require the father to affirm the child’s new name inside and outside the home, embracing the child’s identity as a girl.
In 2019, a Dallas judge ruled that both parents should have joint custody of a child whose gender identity is central to their custody battle. The case drew national attention. A jury had previously rendered a verdict giving the mother sole conservatorship of the child. Days later, a judge overturned the jury’s verdict, awarding joint custody, stating that a “substantial change in circumstances with child or parent” warranted the judge’s decision.
The judge ruled against the requests, saying the court did not have a compelling interest to justify that interference. The judge also ruled there had been no abuse, neglect, or family violence by either parent and ordered both parents to attend family counseling with the child and the child’s sibling.
Additionally, the judge placed a “permanent injunction” on the parents from talking to the media about the case. As a result, both parents have a say in any medical decisions concerning the gender identity of their child. According to the ruling, both parents must agree on topics like physiological treatment, medication, and surgical intervention. The judge appointed a parenting coordinator.
Protecting the Custody Rights of Transgender Parents
Transgender parents also face unique challenges in custody matters. More and more, transgender parents must fight to protect their relationships with their children when facing custody challenges. In some cases, when a parent comes out or transitions to another gender after having a child with a partner or spouse, they experience custody challenges.
Their spouse or partner may see the transition as a reason to petition the court to deny or restrict visitation or child custody. Transgender individuals who create families after coming out or transitioning can also face challenges to their legal status as parents. The validity of their marriages may be attacked.
Challenges to the Fitness of Transgender Parents
Many parents have been treated poorly by Texas courts, especially when judges have a limited understanding of what it means to be transgender. Judges in Texas have very little case law to guide them when making custody decisions involving transgender parents. The case law judges do have is inconsistent.
There is varying, limited case law addressing the relevance of a parent’s transgender status or gender transition in custody proceedings. Working with an attorney can help you advocate for yourself, including evidence and legal arguments for attorneys to consider using where needed in the legal representation of transgender parents.
When courts make initial child custody determinations, they must consider the child’s best interest by assessing several best interest factors. These factors include the child’s relationship with each parent, each parent’s willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent, and the child’s physical, educational, and emotional needs are all factors Texas judges consider.
When a parent seeks to modify an existing child custody order, the parent petitioning the court first must demonstrate that a significant change in circumstances has occurred since the previous child custody order. They must show the requested change of custody is in the child’s best interest.
Texas courts have a presumption for liberal visitation with the non-custodial parent unless contact with the parent is found to cause or threaten physical or emotional harm to the child. When a parent transitions, the other parent may try to claim that the gender transition is a significant change in circumstances or that transitioning.
Some courts reject the asserted unfitness of transgender parents. Other courts rule against transgender parents, finding that being in the care of a transgender parent would expose a child to psychological harm. Working with an attorney is extremely important. An attorney can help you present testimony from expert witnesses such as psychologists, leaving the courts to rely solely on the untested assertions about transgender parents offered by the other party’s experts.
Discuss Your Case With a Skilled Attorney
With the limited body of case law, the treatment of transgender parents in custody cases has varied significantly from case to case. As you can see, transgender parents can face significant hurdles. Hiring an attorney with an in-depth knowledge of LGBTQ+ legal issues is crucial in child custody matters. Attorney Vonda Covington is prepared to provide you with excellent legal representation. Do not hesitate to contact Covington Law Firm, PLLC, to schedule a consultation and learn more about how she can fight for your rights.