Custody battles could heat up if child sex reassignment ban passes

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 4:40 PM EDT
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A bill is making its way through the Florida Legislature that could limit custody for parents who support sex-reassignment surgeries and procedures for their minor children.

SB 254 proposes making it illegal in Florida to provide treatments like puberty blockers and hormone treatments in minors for the purpose of sex reassignment. It also proposes suspending a health care practitioner's license who is arrested for committing, conspiring to commit or soliciting sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures for minors. Physicians could also face criminal charges.

But another controversial portion of the bill proposes giving courts in Florida jurisdiction to "enter, modify, or stay" a child custody determination relating to a child in Florida "to the extent necessary to protect the child from being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures in another state."

For Kimberly Cox, the bill threatens her family. Her child, Zyde, is 17 years old and identifies as transgender.

"They're looking forward to prom," Cox said. "They're in a digital cinema program at their school. They're an A-B honor roll student. They have friends [that] they hang out with."

When Zyde was about 12 years old, Cox said Zyde battled depression and anxiety. It was alleviated when Cox said she learned what Zyde was dealing with internally.

"Finally coming out to us around the age of 14 changed everything dramatically," Cox said.

Zyde, Cox said, is non-binary and chose their name, Zyde. They've since been happier, Cox said. But speaking to lawmakers this month, Cox said SB 254 threatens that happiness.

"All of those feelings of anxiety and depression, I could see it almost wash over them again," Cox said.

It's the idea of Cox and her husband's custody being threatened if they were to support letting Zyde pursue sex-reassignment procedures.

"I'm now at risk [of] being forcibly taken away from them," Zyde told lawmakers. "Signing this bill into law is nothing less than a death sentence for trans people like me and the ones I love."

Supporters of the bill said it is the best way to protect children and teenagers.

"It just seems like there are more and more attacks against children," John Stemberger, the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, said. "They're being presented with decisions that are well beyond their ability and capacity to understand."

Members of his organization are among those urging lawmakers to support the bill.

"Look, if adults want to do this, that's another story," Stemberger said.

Family attorney Trisha Armstrong said the bill, if passed, would likely lead to more litigation.

"Medical treatment is always something that we deal with in family law," Armstrong said, "especially in high conflict cases, unfortunately. It's just another opportunity for the parents to disagree."

More timesharing could go to the parent who does not support sex reassignment.

However, Armstrong said courts would still have to consider the best interest of the child.

Children and teenagers who have already started taking medication or undergoing treatments would be grandfathered into the bill and not have to stop treatments.

Scripps Only Content 2023