Family Law Blog

How the Family Court views Gender Dysphoria (‘Gender Identity Disorder’)

Posted by Ricky Raad on 20 Feb 2015

The Family Court of Australia recently made a Declaration to award Parental Responsibility to a 17 year old to enable him to make decisions regarding treatment for his Gender Dysphoria condition. The question the Court needed to consider was whether the 17 year old was competent to make his own decisions about a medical procedure and treatment for his condition.

The Applicant in Issac [2015] FamCA 1134 was born a female, but for many years had identified himself as a male. The Applicant would, amongst other things:

  • Obtain contraceptive medication to try and stop his menstrual cycle;
  • Receive testosterone from his adolescent physician to masculinise his body
  • Wear a binding device to compress his breasts;
  • Appear in public dressed in male clothes; and
  • Wear ‘boys’ clothes at school.

The Applicant filed an Application, seeking Orders that he obtain a Declaration that he is “Gillick competent” (discussed below) to consent to treatment for his Gender Identity Dysphoria. In order to do this the Court had to make two distinct findings, the first being that the Applicant was competent and capable of making his own medical decisions pertaining to treatment for his condition, and the second being that the Court has power to make an Order in relation to this issue.

‘Gillick’ Competence

In determining whether a person is competent, the Court must primarily look at the Applicant’s maturity and level of understanding regarding the proposed treatment.

In these circumstances, all medical experts had given evidence supporting that the Applicant was competent to make decisions about the treatment that he wishes to undertake to resolve his identity difficulties.  This was supported by findings of the Court that:

  1. The Applicant was aware of the changes that would result with his bodily development – increased muscle bulk, change of voice, increase body hair. 
  2. The Applicant was aware of the affect that the testosterone treatment would have on his ovaries.
  3. The Applicant had detailed discussions with his treating physician about the impact of the proposed hormone treatment and effect on his fertility.
  4. The Applicant was aware of his different medical options, the long term consequences, possible side effects and the risks involved in the procedure.

The Court has the power to make Orders giving Parental Responsibility to any person, including the child themselves. Therefore, provided the Court was satisfied that the Applicant was competent to make decisions about any treatment in relation to gender dysphoria (which they ultimately found he was) then it could give Parental Responsibility to the Applicant.

If you need advice on Parental Responsibility or other family law advice please contact: