During a divorce, a bitter, angry spouse that feels rejected or betrayed may be looking for any issue that can be latched onto in order to make the ordeal worse for the other spouse. Unfortunately, if you're transgendered, your spouse may use that issue to try to paint you in a negative light and make child custody and visitation difficult. Here's what you need to be prepared to face.
Your mental stability and safety as a parent may be questioned.
While transgendered celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Chaz Bono help make transgendered people more visible, their notoriety may also be part of what is spurring on the efforts of people who persist in painting transgendered individuals as mentally ill. Unfortunately, that includes people like the former chief psychiatrist of Johns Hopkins Hospital, who characterizes doctors who perform sex-reassignment surgery as collaborators "promoting a mental disorder." Courts will sometimes point to statements like this in support of the notion that a transgendered parent is inherently mentally ill.
Your spouse may also bring up the fact that suicide rates among transgendered people are 20x higher than those who aren't transgendered—ignoring all of the factors that could contribute to that statistic, including having to deal with outdated notions of gender normalcy and daily acts of anti-transgendered bias.
Your attorney can work with you to provide the court information from psychological experts that do not see being transgendered as synonymous with "mentally ill." You may consider agreeing to an evaluation by a psychiatrist of your own and allowing the court access to the results, in order to show that your trans status has nothing to do with your mental stability.
You may be treated as a parent who abandoned your family.
You may find that you're facing a bias from the court and others simply because you don't fit into an easily-understood category. Some transgendered parents report that they are essentially treated like they have abandoned their family—even though they remain present, willing participants in their children's social and financial lives. If you're a male-to-female transgender, you may be seen as abandoning your role as a father and protector. If you're a female-to-male transgender, you may be accused of leaving your children without a mother.
You'll need to work to avoid giving your spouse any ammunition that can be used to illustrate your "abandonment" of the children. Make sure that you participate fully in your children's education and after-school activities. Don't miss a visitation, even if you have to go through the indignity of supervised visitation while the court determines that you are mentally sound.
Your ability to put your children's needs above your own may be questioned.
The most important issue in any custody battle is what is in the best interests of the child. While there are certain things that a judge can be expected to consider, like the child's age and each parent's living situation, the reality is that a judge can consider virtually anything that he or she thinks may have an impact on the children's well-being.
One issue that you may have to deal with is the perception that you are being "selfish" by transitioning your outward gender identity. That makes it important to show the judge that your transgendered status doesn't eclipse your children in importance. Make sure that you take the transition slowly enough that your children are able to adjust to the changes as you go. If the children are old enough, consider family therapy with the children to help encourage open communication. Make sure that you address any fears that your children may have—including any fears that you might abandon them or are no longer their mother or father.
For more information on dealing with a divorce and custody issues, talk to an divorce lawyer who handles LGBT issues.
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