divorce, domestic violence, family court, self help, transgender

Worth Fighting For

On Friday I stood before our third judge, not knowing what to expect. I’d grown to trust our last judge and truly believe he saw a path to see us free from XN’s tyranny. Then he got reassigned. We lost in a big way. This new judge cut me off when I was given a rare chance to speak, opposing counsel telling her “this is all part of (my) strategy, trying to fillibuster until we forget…” Not once did this judge call my daughter by her chosen name or identified pronouns. Several times I turned around to my husband with eyes saying “what is happening?” I’m not ready to process what happened, because then maybe I’ll wake up and it will have all been just a bad dream. In the meantime, I thought I’d share the opening statement that I prepared and finally got to read part of after opposing counsel had already hijacked my time to paint me as a malicious, conniving, vengeful witch. I know we’re not done, but I don’t know what happens next.

“Your Honor (judge 3), we are wasting time. Time that we will never get back. The Defendant’s actions have proven that he does not care for this child. If he did he would not ignore repeated requests over a span of years to take her to a mental health professional. If he truly cared he wouldn’t refuse to communicate with school staff or willfully avoid child support and medical expenses for years. It has been two and a half years since this court received irrefutable evidence that [XN] is not this child’s father. If we were not move forward with correcting this mistake of fact, and if that was not in the child’s best interest, [Judge 1] would have never ordered the paternity test. The Court appointed expert found the biological parent to be fit and [Judge 2] disestablished Defendant’s paternity. This Court has moved, albeit slowly, in the direction of this day, when I am granted full legal custody of the child I birthed and I am allowed to raise her with her biological father. It has been over a year since this child’s biological father filed a motion to establish paternity and take his rightful place in his child’s life. For three years, my child has had a little brother who she has not been allowed to know and love. Long before the reality of paternity was discovered, [XN] was wreaking havoc in this child’s life, bringing us in and out of this courtroom. His presence in Beatrice’s life is traumatic for her and the rest of her family who adores her.

The report that opposing counsel clings to as if it were law states: “Oriented in all spheres, nothing in [Elles] presentation or personal history would suggest that she currently suffers from major psychopathology.’ This alone is enough to grant me full custody by New Jersey law, as a fit, biological parent. V.C. grants psychological parents ONLY visitation when it is in the best interest of the child. The opinion reads, and I quote: “under ordinary circumstances when the evidence concerning the child’s best interests (as between a legal parent and psychological parent) is in equipoise, custody will be awarded to the legal parent. Visitation, however, will be the presumptive rule, subject to the considerations set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4

Under this rule, the Court must consider the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child, the interaction and relationship of the child with their parents and siblings; the history of domestic violence; the safety, preference and needs of the child; and the stability of the home environment offered. All of these considerations weigh heavily in granting my request for full legal and physical custody.
[The expert] has recognized [XN] for the violent abuser that he is, reported to “be impulsive, prone to risk-taking, and clashes with authority.” He even recommends [XN] to an expert in intimate partner violence. While the DCP&P investigations of the Defendant may have been closed, it was recorded that [XN] yells at and intimidates my child through violent acts in her presence. While I understand that the Courts will go to great lengths to ensure that a child remains with their biological parents, this Court has a responsibility under New Jersey statute to ensure that this person does not have unsupervised access to this child. We cannot let the violent, ill temperament of [XN] interfere with Beatrice’s natural familial relationships any longer.

Everyone in this room knows that it is her legal right, and in her best interest, to be given the opportunity to have a relationship with her father, and a life that is not constantly interrupted by the abusive actions of [XN].

Your Honor, I made a terrible mistake, guided by the information I had at the time, and I am deeply, deeply sorry. But my daughter should not be punished for my mistakes. She has her whole life ahead of her with a wonderful family to support her and love her. It is her absolute right to know her biological father.

On February 6, Beatrice came home from school with a highlighted script in hand, excited that she had been given the role of Step Sister 1 in the classroom production of Cinderella. She immediately began to run lines with me and my husband. A half hour later, she donned her boy costume and was taken to [XN]’s where she had to hide her excitement and could not share her news because she would be berated for her gender identity. On February 15, Beatrice and I were discussing former First Lady Michelle Obama’s book which I had been listening to in the car and Beatrice confessed, “I want to be the first transgender president.”

There are an estimated 30,000 transgender people living in New Jersey. While [XN] and I may stand on different ground morally and politically, in this state, the protection of transgender youth crosses party lines. Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, signed the bipartisan Public Law 2017, Chapter 137, to create guidelines that ‘provide direction for schools in addressing common issues concerning the needs of transgender students, and to assist schools in establishing policies and procedures that ensure a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment for transgender students.’ In 2013, coincidentally on my birthday, Governor Chris Christie, signed A3371, making youth conversion therapy illegal. The bill reads: “New Jersey has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.” Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed bipartisan legislation last July to permit New Jersey residents to have their birth certificates amended to reflect their gender identity and created the state’s Transgender Equality Task Force to assess legal and societal barriers to equality and recommend future laws to prevent discrimination.

My daughter deserves to grow up in a home where she is treated with dignity and where her self-identified gender is respected. She deserved to grow up loved by her parents for who she is. This is not only the moral thing to do, State law requires it.

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