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PRIDE and Family Law

Part 5: Custody Cases Involving LGBTQIA+ Children

Parenting LGBTQIA+ kids can be difficult; trying to protect your child from bullies and bigots is enough to give any parent a sleepless night. Supporting your child, especially if you aren’t familiar with the LBTQ community, can mean working hard to expand both your and your child’s horizons as you help find resources and mentors. Depending on the environment you were raised in, you may also be working to unlearn years and years of your own biases, both conscious and unconscious. It can all be incredibly overwhelming. It may seem like the added stress of a custody battle is the last thing you or your child needs, but if your child’s other parent is unsupportive of your child’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, using the law may be your only recourse to protect your child’s wellbeing.

Impact on LGBTQIA+ Youth Growing Up in Unsupportive Households

Growing up in a household with an unsupportive parent can be very harmful to LGBTQIA+ kids, especially teenagers. Harm may be extreme and obvious, like physical “punishment” and abuse for LBGTQIA+ status, attempting to send a child to psychologically abusive conversion therapies or camps, or even disowning a child altogether. Other harms may be more subtle, but just as insidious. Snide comments, slurs, refusal to acknowledge romantic partners, or refusal to use appropriate names or pronouns can all chip away at the mental health of an out child.

Even if your child isn’t out yet, hearing their parent make more general statements threatening LGBTQIA+ people, not wanting or tolerating an LGBTQIA+ child, or deriding all LGBTQIA+ people as sinners can color how children see themselves as they grow. LGBTQIA+ youth who are rejected by their families and grow up in unsupportive households are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, six times more likely to have high levels of depression, and three times more likely to participate in risky behaviors like using drugs or having unprotected sex.

Demonstrating Psychological Harm

When you go into a courtroom to fight for custody of your LGBTQIA+ child, it is your job to demonstrate those harms to the judge. Previous physical harm can be easy to show – a photograph of a bruise speaks 1000 words. If your concern is psychological harm or a high risk of future harm, however, that can be more complicated. Testimony from a counselor or child psychologist who has worked with your child, recordings or screenshots of inappropriate communication, or witnesses to the impacts on your child like teachers can show emotional abuse from the other parent.

Prior statements about or threats against the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole can show how the other parent is likely to react to your child’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Prior support of conversion therapy can also show a likelihood of future harm, as conversion therapy leads to major suicide risks.

Court Filings are Public

In taking the legal route, remember that court filings are public. Be careful that you don’t expose too much of your child’s private life in complaints or motions or out your child before they are ready. North Carolina is a “notice pleading” state, so you only have to include enough that the other party knows what the issues are, not every sordid detail. If your situation doesn’t allow you to be discreet in your pleadings, ask that the court seal your file to prevent embarrassment or emotional damage to your child.

A custody battle might seem overwhelming, but the mental and physical health of your LGBTQIA+ child is worth any stress that battle might bring. The best way to support your child’s sexual or gender identity is to fight for their right to live a life where they can be who they are, supported and loved by those around them.