Some time ago, my client “Debra” came to me for assistance with her divorce. She had a 10-year-old child and was living with her parents after separating from her husband. Every divorce is unique, but hers would involve a child-related issue beyond figuring out child support and visitation.
She had a transgender child, who had expressed the desire to be a girl, and not a boy, since early childhood. “Jordan” had made that wish, every time, when throwing coins in a fountain. Then one day Jordan heard a television talk show at an aunt’s house about a transgender woman. Jordan came home and asked Debra whether that could possibly be correct – could someone change to what they knew to be their true gender?
Debra did not dismiss Jordan’s question as a passing whim, after years of seeing a definite pattern and hearing Jordan talk of wanting to be a girl. Jordan often had been drawn to what is typically for girls, such as asking for a Disney-princess decorated bedroom.
Debra’s first step was to seek the assistance of a psychologist who specializes in gender issues. Eventually, she took Jordan to the University of Florida youth gender program, which provides healthcare for transgender children. In addition to doctors and nurses, as part of care the program also provides an advocate to help with issues that might arise at school.
Luckily for Debra, her former spouse was supportive of Jordan’s transition. So were her parents.
Since those early days, Debra has become a tireless advocate for Jordan and keeps abreast of issues that could target her family. Now 13, Jordan is on puberty-blockers. A new Florida law that denies such medication for transgender minors did not affect children like Jordan who were already being treated when the law passed. When Jordan is no longer a minor, she can decide on her own whether to continue with surgical treatment.
I talked recently to Debra about another matter and asked how she was holding up, given the controversies that have erupted about transgender people in Florida and around the country. She was straightforward in her reply, saying that “this is all terrifying.”
In case the political climate in Florida becomes too fraught – if she feels her vulnerable 13-year-old simply can’t live where she is a target – she has explored moving to some other state. Which state is the question. She has done her research and has a system to look for must-haves. Any new home would have to be within a reasonable distance of a youth gender-care clinic, like at UF. It would need to have anti-discriminatory LGBTQ laws. And gun control laws. “I’m not going to take a trans kid into states with open carry,” she explained.
Having to move would be far from easy. She would lose the support system that she has built here and live away from extended family. She would also need her ex-husband’s cooperation to move Jordan out of state, which would be a change in the custody agreement. If her ex-husband resisted that change, she could go to court but there is no guarantee a judge would agree. In Florida, divorce law considers it beneficial for children to live near both parents under a shared custody agreement. One parent can’t simply pick up and relocate with the child hundreds of miles away.
It shows the importance of finding a family law attorney who understands sensitive issues in family law and that one-size-does-not-fit-all. In the case of a transgender child, there are issues that need to be included in any parenting plan. One of the most important is to address safety concerns because transgender children can be the target of bullies. And ex-spouses are best on the same page when dealing with school principals and teachers about issues that arise for a transgender child. They will need to talk more about coming up with an agreement during divorce negotiations.
This makes obtaining divorce through mediation a good solution where both parties agreeing in a respectful manner is the goal and all issues are considered carefully. In mediation, a team is in place to help guide the divorcing parties through the process. The team includes a therapist, who can discuss issues, fears, and any obstacles to a solid parenting plan that will help the child flourish.
I can’t stress enough the importance of finding an attorney who is experienced and sensitive to child issues. In the hundreds of people I have helped through divorce, I’ve seen how coming to a good agreement makes so much difference later. That’s preferable to having a judge decide, based on limited testimony.
My philosophy is that divorce, although understandably difficult, can be structured to encourage a sort of rebirth where families thrive. It’s why I specialize in mediation – I want to see my clients reach the place where they can start a new life in the best way possible.