Parents make decisions every day on behalf of their children. What they will eat, what they will wear, where they will play, or where they will go to school. Few decisions have such a long-lasting impact as a child’s name. Children will carry their name with them throughout their life and in some ways, a name will define us. In some cases, that definition no longer fits. In a recent case, a New Jersey court was faced with the issue of a transgender youth wanting to change his name to reflect his gender identity.
In Sacklow v. Betts, the subject child was named “Veronica” at birth. The parents were later divorced. The child later disclosed that he was transgender and wanted to now be known as “Trevor.” From the time the child selected the new name, everyone in the mother’s family used that name. The father, step-mother, and step-siblings continued to call him Veronica. Eventually, the mother filed a petition seeking to legally change the child’s first name to Trevor. By that time, the child was receiving hormone therapy and other medical and emotional treatment to assist in the transition from female to male. This was being done with the knowledge and consent of both parents.
The court recited that in the case of a parent seeking to change a child’s last name, N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1 provides the correct procedure for filing a petition. A court should then examine what is in the child’s best interest with respect to that name change, and noted there are a variety of factors to be considered by a court in making such a determination. The court noted that there are special considerations in the case of a transgender child, as they face unique challenges, and forcing a child to maintain a name of the gender opposite to that with which the child identifies could be embarrassing and harmful.
The court determined that as in the case of changing a child’s surname, the standard to be used when deciding to change a child’s first name in this type of case should also be the best interest of the child. The court crafted a set of best interest factors based on those used in the changing of a last name, including such factors as how long the child has gone by the new name, the potential embarrassment the child experiences from the old name, and whether the parents agree.
If you have questions about name changes for minors, call us today for an appointment at (732) 529-6937. We have experience in helping our clients with these cases.