What’s in a Name? A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell Just as Sweet – Name Change for Transgender Child Allowed by New Jersey Court

file701299029783-300x255In Sacklow v. Betts, a case of first impression,  Hon. Marcia Silva, J.S.C. a Chancery Division judge in Middlesex County, decided that the “best interest of the child” standard applies when a considering whether to allow a transgender child to change his or her legal name.

Janet Sacklow, the child’s mother in this case, petitioned the Chancery Division to change the name of the parties’ 16 year old transgender child from Veronica to Trevor, arguing that this was in the child’s best interest because her child is transgender, identifies as a male, and has been undergoing treatment for gender dysphoria.  Richard Betts, the child’s father, initially opposed the name change, but after cross examining the child, he was willing to consent to changing Veronica’s name to Trevor even though he still nonetheless expressed his concern about whether this name change was in the best interest of the child.

Judge Silva first discussed what standard a court should use when considering a request to change the name of a transgender child, and decided that the “best interest of the child” standard is the applicable standard.   The factors listed by Judge Silva that should be applicable are as follows:

(1) 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.

Ms. Sacklow certified that while the child was growing up she and Mr. Betts thought the child was a simply a tomboy. However, by the time Trevor was in sixth grade his behavior and grades changed drastically, and as a result he was referred to a child study team at school. Ms. Sacklow also consulted with a social worker whom Trevor began seeing to address his emotions.  In June 2012, with the help of the social worker, Veronica informed her family that he was transgender and and that she identified as a male.  The social worker recommended that Trevor begin seeing a psychologist, who diagnosed Veroncia with gender dysphoria.

At the age of twelve, Veronica requested to be called Trevor going forward.  Ms. Sacklow and her family complied with Trevor’s request. Trevor testified that the only his father and his father’s family referred to him as Veronica.   With the consent of both of his parents, Trevor began to undergo hormone treatments to suppress menstruation, and later began testosterone therapy.

Applying the best interest of the child standard to this matter, Judge Silva granted the application for to legally change Veronica’s name to Trevor.  Judge Silva  reasoned: “Trevor has undergone hormone therapy and presents as a young man with facial hair, a muscular build, a head full of male textured hair, a deeper voice. To force him to legally keep the feminine name ‘Veronica’ would not be in his best interest.”

The issues involving not only transgender, but gay, lesbian and bisexual children continue to evolve. While this case certainly begins to address the some of the issues these children face, it does not address all of the issues and the courts will have to continue to adapt to and reflect societal changes.