The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that family court judges can overrule a parent’s custodial authority to provide specialist therapy and counseling for trans children.
The ruling states that such measures can be necessary to protect children from harm.
The court also ruled that a family court had overstepped by ordering parents to treat their trans daughter like a boy.
The ruling states that courts can intervene if the child is ‘at risk for physical danger or significantly impaired emotionally’. This is a higher legal standard than ‘the best interests of the child’.
It follows a case surrounding a couple who were involved in legal disputes over how to raise their trans child.
The ruling has been applauded by trans rights advocates.
Arizona couple raising a trans child
The case the ruling surrounds numerous legal battles involving a divorced couple, identified as Paul E and Courtney F in court documents.
The couple have three children together, including one child identified by court documents as L. Though raised as a boy, at age five L began identifying as a girl, Metro Weekly reports.
Courtney F embraced her daughter’s gender identity and began treating her as trans. The mother allowing L to dress like a girl and referred to her with feminine pronouns.
However, Paul E objected to this form of upbringing for his child. He felt L was too young to be encouraged to identify as female.
The father initially agreed to allow L to speak with a therapist to discuss issues of gender dysphoria. Paul E then asked the courts to intervene in helping determine the child’s upbringing.
Dispute over therapy
The dispute ended up in a family court, where Paul E was granted custody of L. However, the court ordered that L continue to meet with her therapist.
The court also appointed an expert on the mental health of trans children to advise both the couple and the court on L’s ongoing treatment.
Paul E appealed the court’s decision.
The Arizona Court of Appeal sided with the father. They ruled that family court judges cannot dictate that Paul E was required to provide a certain therapist for L.
Courtney F appealed this decision and took the case to the state’s Supreme Court. She argued that the therapy sessions were required to protect L’s mental and physical health.
The Supreme Court found in favor of Courtney F. They ruled that a family court can impose therapy from a certain therapist, even if this means overruling a parent’s custodial authority.
The ruling states: ‘The evidence supports findings implicit in the court’s orders, however, that L would be physically endangered or suffer significant emotional impairment if Father fails to maintain therapy for L or retain a gender expert or if he declines to allow L to gender explore.’
‘This is an important decision’
Trans rights advocates and members of Courtney F’s legal team welcomed the ruling.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), which helped represent Courtney F, said the ruling would help give family-court judges guidance in future cases involving gender nonconforming children.
‘We are pleased that the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed that family-court judges have the flexibility to craft custody orders that protect children from harm, including requiring a custodial parent to provide a gender nonconforming child with supportive counseling and care,’ Shannon Minter, the NCLR’s legal director, said in a statement.
‘This is particularly important for transgender children who require specialized healthcare to address their unique needs.’
This was echoed by Taylor Young, an attorney with law firm Mandel Young, PLC. Young argued the case before the Arizona Supreme Court.
‘Family court judges must be able to protect children from harm,” Young said. ‘[This] opinion preserves their ability to do so, including by ensuring that children receive necessary counseling and care.’
Katherine Kuvalanka, a Miami University professor of family science who focuses on custody fights and transgender children, described the ruling as a ‘win’.
‘[Studies have] consistently shown that acceptance and support is imperative for this population, and that a lack of acceptance and rejection often has tragic results,’ Kuvalanka told AZ Central.