When Parents Disagree – The Law on Gender Identity in Children

Jan 11, 2019   ·   6 minute read
Worried young woman sitting on sofa at home and ignoring her partner who is sitting next to her

Whether parents are together or apart it is all too easy to fall out over the parenting of children. Sometimes it is something little like why one parent thinks it is ok to let the children put their shoes on the sofa or eat pizza every night of the week, ignoring the 5 a day rule. It is a lot harder to reach an agreement on parenting if you are separated. There can be a lot of miscommunication or assumptions made that can turn what was a relatively minor disagreement to a full blown argument, often including a debate on the other parent’s failings whilst you were living together. When this comes to gender identity in children and the law, it is often necessary to involve a children law solicitor.

As an experienced Manchester children solicitor, I know this description will ring true with many families, though their big issue might be homework or the shoes off at the door rule. Imagine though if the issue with your child was bigger? It used to be the case that when parents separated the ‘big issue’, after sorting out custody and access, was whether the children should be privately educated or not. Sometimes the argument was about the money for school fees but often it was an ideological argument with one parent being opposed to all forms of private education as a matter of principle and the other parent analysing school exam results in state and private schools and concluding that private education was best.

Nowadays the parenting debates and disagreements have moved on to new topics, though the old battle areas of diet and homework are still very much alive. The new topic is gender identity. If a child questions their gender identity then it is tough for any child and their parents but particularly so if the child’s parents are separated and they can’t put differences aside to co-parent together or one parent has very strong views on their child’s gender identity and objects to a referral to a specialist service.

Gender Identity in Children: Children Gender Identity In The News

The topic of gender identity in children was in the news recently with reports that the National Health Service specialist service for children wanting to change genders has seen a 700% increase in referrals over the past 5 years, with Polly Carmichael, director of the National Health Service gender service telling the Sunday Times that some children may be caught up in something, rather than it being an expression of something that has arisen from within. Children and  gender identity is likely to continue to hit the headlines , with reports that in one secondary school there are 40 children who do not identify with their sex at birth and a further 36 who would describe themselves as gender fluid. These figures come from a council survey of children at the state comprehensive school.

It is therefore likely that increasing numbers of parents will face difficult decisions as to whether treatment should be explored and, if so, at what age. But what about the parents that just can’t agree on what their child should eat or time they should go to bed, let alone their child’s gender identity. If 2 parents can’t agree on what is best for their child then what are the legal options?

Gender Identity in Children and Applying For a Specific Issue Order Or A Prohibited Steps Order

If 2 parents can’t reach an agreement on the parenting for their child, and in particular on what steps, if any, to take about the child’s gender identity then either one of them has the option of starting court proceedings  for a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order. Court proceedings should be used as the very last resort after all over attempts have been made to try and agree the way forward. If the parents ability to communicate with one another has been lost then professional help such as:

  • Mediation; or
  • Family therapy; or
  • Individual therapy

Can help resolve parenting disputes or at least ease communications even if the parents can’t agree on an important aspect of their child’s life.

If a court application is made for a specific issue order the parent is asking the court to decide on a specific issue, for example, whether the child should be allowed to attend the National Health Service specialist gender referral unit. If a parent of a child has agreed to the child participating in therapy or starting to take medication and the other parent objects on the basis that the child is too young or for their own reasons  they can apply to the court for a prohibited steps order to stop the other parent from allowing the activity to happen.

What about the child’s rights and wishes?  

If a child is over the age of 16 they are presumed to have capacity to make their own decisions about medical treatment, even if is the treatment relates to their gender identity. If a child is under 16 the child may be able to consent to medical treatment if they are old enough to make an informed choice as a result of having sufficient intelligence and maturity to fully understand what is involved in the treatment.

If parents can’t agree on what is right for their child and court proceedings are started for a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order the court will look at a range of factors before deciding on whether or not the court order is in the child’s best interests. One of the factors that the court will look at is the child’s wishes and feelings. The views of an older or more mature child will obviously carry more weight than the wishes of a toddler or a 7 year old.

How Can Evolve Children Law Solicitors Help in Gender Identity in Children?

At Evolve Family Law we recognise that parenting is tough at the best of times, let alone when you are going through a separation or a divorce. That is why we provide help to parents who feel that they have reached an impasse with their former partner and need help to guide them through their family law options.

Contact our expert children law team today

For advice and information about any aspects of children law, parenting arrangements or specific issue and prohibited steps orders please  call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at louise@evolvefamilylaw.co.uk