Arizona Supreme Court sides with father in dispute over child’s gender identification; ‘more of a developmental issue,’ says Rose Law Group family attorney, Audra Petrolle

Arizona Supreme Court Building /Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times

By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services via Arizona Capitol Times

Family courts have no right to interfere with the decisions of a parent given sole legal custody of a child after a divorce absent some showing of specific harm, even when the issue involves the youngster’s decisions about sexual identification, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a warning of sorts to family court judges, the justices said they can impose specific limits on the power of the parent who is the sole decision maker. One example, they said, is a decision to refuse to retain particular therapeutic services if it would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.

“But any limitation must be tailored to prevent or remedy the endangerment or impairment,” wrote Justice Ann Scott Timmer for the unanimous court. More to the point, she told family court judges to shelve their own views.

“The court must be mindful not to unnecessarily intrude on the sole legal decision-maker’s unshared authority to make major decisions concerning the child’s upbringing, even if those decisions conflict with expert opinion or the court’s own views on child rearing,” Timmer wrote.

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In my opinion, gender identity is less of a legal issue and more of a developmental issue. If a child presents anatomically one way, but identifies a different way, then I believe many psychologists would recommend that the parent honor what the child is communicating. In her book, The Gardner And The Carpenter, Allison Gopnik explains that most parents are carpenters who think their child can be molded, but they should really be cultivating the garden, meaning rather than trying to control who  your child will become,  just provide a protected space for the child to explore and grow.

And, in this case, while the child may have been diagnosed with gender dysmorphia, my understanding is that there continues to be a lot of discussion in the field of psychology as to whether it is even appropriate to include this diagnosis in the DSM; however, the diagnosis does help an individual who ultimately would like to receive gender reassignment surgery with coverage through insurance.

~Audra Petrolle

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