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Kids Come First in Complex Custody Case

The pronoun was a problem.

Throughout the child custody hearing — in a case described as convoluted and contentious as they come — Samuel Behar, attorney for mother Linda Deimer, kept falling into the habit of referring to Deimer’s ex-husband, Jaiden Williams, as “he.”

Behar often addressed Williams as “Mr. Williams,” only to be reminded by Family Court Judge Alisa Hadfield and Williams’ attorney, Don Harris (yes, the Albuquerque city councilor), that Williams was no mister.

Not anymore.

“I believe the petitioner prefers to be called Ms. Williams,” Hadfield chided.

Which was apparently too convoluted for Behar.

“Is ‘Jaiden’ all right?” he asked Williams.

It was, though in fact it isn’t. Jaiden Michael Bryce Williams these days prefers the name Madison Williams. Because he is now a she.

Williams, a transgender woman, has been making the transition from male to female for a few years, coming out fully femme in January 2011. Effeminate since he was a little boy with a doll, Williams, 35, was often mislabeled, often cruelly, as gay, though that never felt right. Her father, she said, called her “Pantywaist.”

“I grew up in an abusive environment,” she told me weeks before the custody hearing in Albuquerque. “I wasn’t really thinking so much of my sexuality as my survival.”

Williams and Deimer had been married for 11 years and are the parents of a boy and a girl — Williams was the stay-at-home parent. The couple separated in 2009, then divorced a year later.

That’s when, Williams said, she began to embrace the notion of her nature.

“Well, when you’ve always been the mommy, you might as well look like one,” she jested, though she is only half-joking.

In the midst of her transition, she married another woman and fathered two more sons. Although her driver’s license now lists her as female (though she has not undergone reassignment surgery), she is still married to Wife No. 2, still the stay-at-home parent.

The name Madison comes from Maddy, a combination of Mom and Daddy, the name her children gave her.

Even after the divorce, things between Williams and Deimer were amicable in terms of the children, now ages 10 and 12, Williams said. Deimer had remarried and was working; the kids stayed with Williams for most of the time, transitioning back and forth between the homes as necessary.

But things soured when, in December 2010, Williams filed court papers to make the custody arrangement official.

Then came the lawyers.

And then came the transgender concerns.

Deimer argued that Williams “does not provide the father figure that he once claimed due to his transgender transition.”

It was one of several points made by Deimer in opposition to a court clinician’s advisory consultation report, recommending the judge give the children to Williams for nine days to Deimer’s five days on a rotating basis.

But it was the most startling point to Williams.

“Linda has always encouraged me to explore this part of me,” she said. “Now suddenly, it was a bad thing.”

Harris, in presenting Williams’ case during the two-day hearing last month, argued that Williams is protected from discrimination by state statute, New Mexico being one of the few states to have enacted a statute specifying the civil rights of a person based on his or her “gender identity.”

“It would be like asking her if she thought it was an important fact if Jaiden was a woman or Jaiden was a man or Jaiden was black,” Harris told the court, referring to a question posed to court clinician Renee Pascetti-Cerami about Williams. “Under New Mexico law, that’s not a factor.”

It hadn’t been to Pascetti-Cerami, nor to her supervisor, Dr. Mercedes Reisinger-Marshall, because it wasn’t to the children.

“The children don’t see the father any different,” Pascetti-Cerami testified. “They recognize that she is female, but in their hearts, she is their father.”

What was more important in the case was how well the children were doing in the shifting sands of a broken home.

Like in any divorce.

“In some respects, this is not all that much of an unusual case,” Harris said in his closing argument. “We have a stay-at-home mom who is the primary caregiver, parents get divorced and the court feels that the primary caregiver who’s been the emotional parent caring for the children all that time oftentimes gets the primary timesharing. Something like 85 percent of women have primary timesharing of children,” he said. “The twist in this case is, you have someone who is genetically a man who has become transgender.”

In the end, Judge Hadfield agreed, at least for now, awarding Williams the larger portion of the nine-days-five days timesharing schedule. Another hearing is scheduled in June.

A study done in 1978 and revisited 20 years later performed by Dr. Richard Green, an expert in transgender issues, found children raised in the household of a transgender parent turned out just as well-adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents.

It’s nice to see that at least in one courtroom in New Mexico, that is considered, even when the household is a broken one.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline Gutierrez Krueger at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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