Making Choices For Our Kids

We didn’t agree on a lot of things when we were married. We had a lot of feelings clouding our judgement. There was a lot of stress distracting us from prioritizing. After our divorce was finalized and everything was written in ink and signed off on, it all got easier.

It wasn’t quite overnight, but over time we grew closer and more capable of healthy communication when it comes to our kids. We had been on the same page before we got married and now we are back on the same page. We just needed to get rid of some of the other aspects of our relationship to become the parents we were meant to be.

So while some minor details aren’t always agreed on, we seem to always find a good place to land when it comes to the big issues. Like our children’s wellbeing, mental health, and meeting their individual needs.

Our daughter comes with a whole host of needs. Not all of which made sense to us at first. And not all of which came with any sort of “how to” guide. Allowing our child to transition was the simplest and hardest thing to come to terms with. We both knew who she was and who she needed to be allowed to be. We both were terrified of messing this up. We consulted wit ha specialist. We met with other families, some in real life, some virtually. We took it slowly and followed her lead.

Most recently, we signed documents and mailed out a check. We finally gave our girl what she needed in order to be able to live her life. A child shouldn’t have to come with an explanation or a “heads up” before starting a new class. A child shouldn’t always have to enter a new arena by waiting on the outskirts while their parents explained to the adults in charge what to expect. And now, she won’t have to.

https://www.nj.gov/health/forms/reg-l3_1.pdf

https://www.gardenstateequality.org/faq

Split Days Are A Thing

I showed up to the play date with one kid.  My friend was shocked.  Where was my other kid? I guess the concept of having a split day isn’t something people are too familiar with.  Many parents take one kid out for a special activity.  Many kids go out with their friends or family without necessarily taking their sibling along.  But once you start breaking down their schedules into parenting time, people tend to be far more hungry for that time. 

Early on in the divorce process I worried about losing time with my kids.  I worried about missing out on huge memories and all of their little milestones.  I worried about all of it.  As the kids got older though, I noticed that there were a lot of things we were all missing out on.  A little one on one time started to become something to look forward to.   

Our kids are their own people.  They have their own hobbies, interests, all of it.  And they have an amazing ability to interrupt each other and a strong desire to steer conversations and play in their own direction.  It became apparent that they needed one on one time. 

The split day was born.  It was such a raging success from the very first one that we knew we had to work this into our parenting schedule.  It made it so much more clear too that this wasn’t about my days or about my exes days.  All of this is about the kids days.   

Birthday parties are much easier to navigate without an extra sibling.  Bringing a 4 year old on a 4 hour hike is surprisingly doable when it’s one 4 year old instead of 2.  A trip to the museum became a truly interactive learning event rather than a push-me pull-me down a spiral of exhaustion.  The kids missed each other and were happy to be reunited at the end of the day.  They were eager to share their experiences.  They were thrilled to have had one of us to themselves.  So yeah, split days are a thing.  And we like them. 

“Mama, you don’t have balls?”

            When a 5 year old transgender child started asking about eggs (in the context of mammals), their parent knew she was in for an interesting discussion. In response to the “do you have eggs” question posed by the child, their parent (assigned female at birth) informed them that she does have ovaries with eggs in them.  When the child asked if she also has eggs, the parent replied that most people do not have both eggs and testicles.  To that, the surprised child said “WAIT!  Mama, you don’t have balls?” 

            This conversation and this child’s surprise highlights the idea that children are flexible in thinking and if not taught a specific version of gender role concepts and expectations of gender conformity, a child has the potential to accept the world around them and to develop naturally without constraints in what is considered common social norms.  Parental modeling and teachings have a significant influence on children’s own concepts of self (Bosacki, 2014).  

Gender Development

            If someone has never thought about their gender identity, it is probably because their gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.  A doctor makes a determination based upon genitals or chromosomes at the time of birth as to whether to mark the “female” checkbox or the “male” checkbox at the time of birth, and while that designation will create an individual’s sex assigned at birth, that momentary designation does not determine a person’s actual gender identity (Winter, 2015).

            Gender, as compared with biological sex assigned at birth, is a person’s psychological identification as either male, female or non-binary. Transgender is the term used to describe an individual whose biological sex assigned at birth does not match their gender identity (Goldstein, Corneil, & Greene, 2017).   Research shows that individuals start having recognition of gender differences in their perceptions in infancy.  These are based upon social constructs as to what is embedded into society as male or female gender-role identifiers (Dunham, Baron, Banaji, 2016).

Gender-related self-identification of a child starts at age 2-3 years old.  By that time, it is common for parents to have immersed their child into gender stereotyping simply by way of clothing and toy choices thus creating an environment where a child is encouraged to conform to gender stereotyping associated with their sex assigned at birth rather than an innate development of gender identity (Winters, 2017).  Their environment can significantly affect initial concepts of gender identity based upon the social feedback (both positive and negative) associated with choices and preferences a child shows in their environment such as color and play choices.

Within cognitive theories, children are viewed as internally motivated who construct their own concepts of gender.  Those concepts then morph into gender conformity which children see as a way to conquer the concept of gender.  Also, within this theory, children (ages 2 through 6 years old) may have phases of awareness, followed by rigidity, and then flexibility (Halim et al., 2014) associated with their gender identity based largely in gender expression.  Utilizing clothing as a tool, children can use their learned gender stereotyping to express their own internalized gender concepts because the rigidity allows them to try to conquer this rather complex concept (Halim et al., 2014). 

Within a concept of social learning theory, Albert Bandura opined that humans are neither entirely able to act inherently independently nor entirely controlled by external forces and are, instead, able to develop self-regulation to a degree that they have control over their own actions (Wulfert, 2018).  Self-regulation is one’s ability to plan behavior but then modify based upon situational need to adapt (Montroy et al., 2016).  This social theory as applied to gender development would lend itself to the idea that children are able to recognize their own gender identity even if they are exposed to social modeling and gender stereotyping. 

There is, undoubtedly, a complicated relationship between sex assigned at birth and gender identity.  Social constructs have a significant influence over defining gender roles and expectations and privileges associated with a particular gender designation. As such, a child’s freedom to discovery gender identity that is innate and self-determined lies significant with those adults and peers creating the environment and modeling roles, gendered or otherwise, for those children.

References 

Bosacki, S. (2014).  A Longitudinal Study of Children’s Theory of Mind, Self-Concept, and Gender-Role Orientation.  International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 6(2), 213-228. 

Dunham, Y., Baron, A., & Banaji, M. (2016).  The development of implicit gender attitudes.  Developmental Science, 19(5), 781-789. 

Goldstein, Z., Corneil, T.A., & Greene, D. (2017).  When Gender Identity Doesn’t Equal Sex Recorded at Birth: The Role of Laboratory in Providing Effective Healthcare to the Transgender Community.  Clinical Chemistry, 63(8), 1342-1352. 

Halim, M., Ruble, D., Tamis-LeMonda, C., Zosuls, K., Lurye, L., & Greulich, F. (2014).  Pink frilly dresses and the avoidance of all things “girly”: Children’s appearance rigidity and cognitive theories of gender development.  Developmental Psychology, 50(4), 1091-1101.

Montroy, J., Bowles, R., Skibbe, L., McClelland, M., & Morrison, F. (2016).  The development of self-regulation across early childhood.  Developmental Psychology, 52(11), 1744-1762.

Winter, G. (2015).  Determining Gender: a social construct? Community Practitioner, 88(2), 15-17.

Wulfert, E. (2018).  Social learning according to Albert Bandura.  Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health.



S.B. v. K.C.: Custody Arrangements that Give Rise to Continuing Risks for Domestic Violence

On October 12, 2018, the Appellate Division handed down an unpublished decision in S.B. v. K.C., a case in which Essex County Superior Court dismissed an application for a domestic violence temporary restraining order and denied a final restraining order. 

Plaintiff and Defendant were never married but had one child together, born in August 2007.  The parties lived together for a few months following their child’s birth, until Defendant became incarcerated. 

Plaintiff filed her first domestic violence complaint on June 18, 2012.  She alleged that Defendant had hit her during their child’s preschool graduation and threatened to kill her, and also kicked Plaintiff’s car while she was sitting in it.  Plaintiff also laid out a history of previously unreported domestic violence incidents spanning as early as when their child was 3 weeks old.  A trial court judge granted Plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA)(N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35). 

Defendant was not served with the TRO until he appeared for a visitation hearing before a second trial court judge nearly 5 years later, on February 17, 2017.  At that time, the second trial court judge continued the restraints from the original TRO and scheduled a trial date for a Final Restraining Order (FRO) hearing. 

On March 2, 2017, Plaintiff amended her complaint to add more incidents that had occurred since the entry of the initial TRO.  The second trial judge granted Plaintiff’s amended TRO and scheduled an FRO hearing for March 16, 2017 before a third trial judge. 

A trial court must analyze a case brought under the PDVA by applying the two-prong test in Silver v. Silver, 387 N.J. Super 112, 126 (App. Div. 2006).  The first prong requires the court to determine whether or not a predicate act (as defined by the PDVA) was committed, and the second prong requires the court to determine whether a final restraining order is necessary to prevent the defendant from causing harm to the plaintiff in the future. 

At the March 16, 2017 hearing, Plaintiff appeared with counsel, while Defendant failed to appear at all.  Plaintiff gave testimony.  The court issued an FRO by default on the grounds that Defendant had committed the predicate acts of assault and harassment and that Plaintiff was afraid of Defendant. 

However, the next day (March 17, 2017) the Defendant appeared in court and filed a motion for reconsideration before the second trial judge, claiming that he (the Defendant) had made a mistake with respect to the FRO hearing date.  When the second judge heard the motion for reconsideration, both parties appeared (Plaintiff had counsel) and both parties testified.  Neither presented witnesses or documentary evidence.  The judge ultimately found that Plaintiff failed to corroborate most of the allegations made in her amended TRO but that she did prove that Defendant committed three predicate acts on two separate occasions.  Even though the judge recognized that Defendant committed predicate acts, the trial judge commented that the incidents were three years apart, and he saw no immediate danger to Plaintiff and therefore, there was no need to enter an FRO to prevent future harm. 

Plaintiff appealed.  Defendant failed to file any responsive pleadings.  The Appellate Division found that the trial court had “failed to give sufficient measured consideration to the ongoing visitation issues concerning [the parties’ child] which will continue to bring the parties into contact and almost inevitably be a source of conflict.” The Appellate Division noted that Defendant’s commission of two separate predicate acts were likely to be repeated in the future because of the ongoing issues, and that the trial judge was mistaken in finding that Plaintiff failed to establish the second prong of the Silver analysis.  The Appellate Division reversed the trial judge’s decision, remanded the matter back to the trial court, and directed the trial court to enter an FRO, including parenting time provisions if necessary. 

Sahai v. Sahai: A Noncompliant Party Cannot Withhold Financial Information from the Court then Claim an Inability to Pay Sanctions and Attorney’s Fees

On October 2, 2018, the Appellate Division handed down an unpublished decision in Rooney Sahai v. Susan Sahai, a post-judgment matrimonial matter on appeal from Bergen County. 

The parties divorced in 2012 after 26 years of marriage.  Their Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) provided for no parenting time between Susan and the parties’ severely disabled adult daughter, even though both parties cared for the child from the time of her birth through the entry of their divorce.  In July 2014, Susan filed a motion to vacate the PSA on the grounds that Rooney coerced her into signing it.  The court scheduled a plenary hearing shortly thereafter. 

Over the 4 ½ years that followed Susan’s motion; Rooney engaged in what the Appellate Division labeled as “obstructionist litigation.”  Rooney failed to comply with 3 separate court orders (including a consent order), entered over the course of 9 months, for Susan to have visitation with the parties’ daughter.  Rooney initiated a criminal complaint against Susan with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office (which was administratively dismissed).  He also filed civil suits against Susan’s attorney in Superior Court and Federal Court (both of which were also dismissed).  During all of this chaos, the trial court imposed $20,000 in sanctions against Rooney for his non-compliance with court orders as well as ordering him to pay over $10,000 in attorney’s fees.   

Rooney filed 2 appeals relative to the sanctions and attorney’s fees.  Prior to the Appellate Division reviewing the matter, Susan’s attorney informed the court that the plenary hearing was still pending, as the trial court was now awaiting the Appellate Division’s decision. 

On appeal, the court noted that Rooney had failed to comply with the financial discovery that was required of him at the trial level.  For that reason, he could not now come before the Court and claim an inability to pay.  The Appellate Court also supported the trial court’s statements that it did not find Rooney’s testimony about his financial circumstances to be credible, and that it was able to make a “reasonable inference” that he was either attempting to hide money or attempting to mislead the court.  The Appellate Court ultimately affirmed the trial court’s award of counsel fees and imposition of sanctions.