My Name Is...

Last month New Jersey Courts approved what would prove to be a precedential decision and a rubric for Judges asked to decide the issue of a minor, transgender child seeking to change their name. In the matter of Sacklow v. Betts, Plaintiff, mother, the custodial parent of a transgendered child, sought, on her child’s behalf, a legal name change from the child’s birth name, Veronica, to the child’s chosen name, Trevor. Defendant, the child’s father, contested the name change.

The mother’s application proved the final step in a series of applications filed with the Court throughout the course of the child’s adolescence, and specifically as it related to the child’s commencement of a hormonal treatment regiment and mental health services so as to allow the child to transition from female to male, the gender in which the minor child identified. Despite the father’s previous consent to many of the transitional therapies, it was the father’s position that the name change application was not in the child’s best interests.

The Court was tasked with determining whether the child’s request for a name change, as advanced by his mother, should be granted. The specific question facing the Court was what standard to apply and what factors should be considered in the request for a name change. Ultimately, the Court held that the best interest of the child standard was the appropriate standard to consider. The Court went on to cite the following seven (7) factors which were analyzed by the Sacklow Court, and which should be applied in future cases where the name change sought by a minor, or on a minor’s behalf, is the issue at bar:

The age of the child; (2) The length of time the child has used the preferred name; (3) Any potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort that may result from the child having a name he or she believes does not match his or her outward appearance and gender identity; (4) The history of any medical or mental health counseling the child has received; (5) The name the child is known by in his or her family, school and community; (6) The child’s preference and motivations for seeking the name change; (7) Whether both parents consent to the name change, and if consent is not given, the reason for withholding consent.

In Sacklow, after consultation with a mental health professional, Trevor declared to his family, in or about 2012, that he was transgender and identified as a male, as opposed to female. The child then sought therapeutic services with a licensed psychologist who diagnosed the child with gender dysphoria. After consulting with several medical and mental health professionals, the child began a course of physical and mental transitions from the female gender to the male gender. For five (5) years preceding the within action, the child declared to his family that he wished to be referred to as Trevor, and that he no longer wished to be referred to by his birth name, Veronica. The parties, by way of consent in 2014, and despite having filed motions with the Court regarding Trevor’s medical treatment, permitted Trevor to commence a course of medical treatment whereby menstruation would be suppressed, and testosterone therapies would commence.

As such, after taking testimony in this matter from both parents and the child, and given the prior history of this case, the Court determined that it was in the child’s best interest to allow his name to be changed. This was particularly true in light of the fact that the child would soon be obtaining a driver’s license. This adolescent milestone was significant insofar as Trevor wished to match the gender in which he identifies, not the gender in which he was born, for purposes of obtaining what would prove to become his primary form of adult identification. The Court found this to be significantly compelling.

In the ever evolving area of transgendered rights and issues, this case proves a significant legal milestone in providing Court’s with a standard and rubric for addressing similar matters in future years.

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