(LongLiveRock, via Wikimedia Commons)
A New Jersey judge has ruled in a case of first impression that the best interest of the child standard should apply when a transgender minor is seeking to have his or her name legally changed to more accurately reflect the gender identity.
Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Marcia Silva wrote her opinion in Sacklow v. Betts in March, but it was approved for publication and released on Wednesday.
Silva, in her ruling, said the 16-year-old minor born to a now-divorced couple, Janet Sacklow and Richard Betts, can have her birth name changed from Veronica to Trevor. Trevor has identified as transgender since the age of 12 and currently is undergoing mental and physical therapy that ultimately will result in a transition from female to male.
“[T]he court finds that the best interest of the child standard should govern the court’s decision,” Silva said.
“This name change allows the transgender minor child to begin to fully transition into their chosen gender and possibly prevent them from facing harassment and embarrassment from being forced to use a legal name that may no longer match his or her gender identification,” Silva said.
“Trevor is committed to living his life as a male,” she said.
The name-change petition was filed last September by the mother on the minor’s behalf and was initially opposed by the father, who argued that a hearing needed to be held first to determine the minor’s best interest. After that hearing, the father consented to the name change but continued to express concerns about whether the name change was in Trevor’s best interest.
Sacklow’s attorney, Jennifer Weisberg Millner, said Silva issued a comprehensive ruling.
“Judge Silva really nailed the analysis of what a court has to go through,” said Millner, of the Princeton office of Fox Rothschild. “It was clear to the judge that it was in the best interest of the child to move forward.
“My hope is that transgender minors will see that there is some mechanism in the court system that will help with their journey,” Millner said.
Betts represented himself pro se; attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
During the March hearing, Sacklow testified that Trevor, from a young age, did not like “typical girl” toys and hated dresses. Instead, she loved basketball, baseball, skateboarding and rollerblading, according to the ruling. She did not, Silva said, “conform to gender norms.”
In the sixth grade, Trevor started exhibiting changes in behavior, began getting bad grades, would lie, vandalize school property and get into fights.
He began undergoing counseling and eventually told his parents that he was transgender. Currently, he is undergoing hormone and testosterone treatments, Silva said.
Silva said there were a number of other factors to be considered when deciding whether to grant a minor’s request for a name change: age, the length of time the child has been using the preferred name, the potential for anxiety and other difficulties if the request is denied, any history of medical or mental health concerns, whether the preferred name is recognized by the family and community and whether the parents’ consent.
Silva noted that there was not a violation of any statute that bars a name change if the applicant is looking to dodge creditors or criminal prosecution.