Kristen L. v. Benjamin W. (USA)

Kristen and Benjamin divorced in early 2012. Under the terms of their custody agreement, they shared legal custody of their two sons, one born in 2003 and one in 2005. Kristen, who lives in Anchorage, was to have primary physical custody of the children; Benjamin, who is in the Air Force and lives in California, was to have weekly Skype contact and the children were to travel to California for Christmas and summer visitations.

Kristen and Benjamin were aware before the divorce that their younger child engaged in feminine behaviors, including wearing girl’s clothing and nail polish. Both parties apparently assumed the child was going through a “phase,” although they had differing views — Benjamin was more accepting of the child’s behavior than Kristen.

In June 2013 the children arrived in California for their summer visitation with Benjamin. Benjamin noticed bruises on the younger child, including a large one on the child’s back. When asked what caused the bruises, the child hid his face in a pillow and was unresponsive. The child later said that Kristen and her husband caused the bruises. After talking with his Air Force superiors, Benjamin reported the child’s statements to police in California and Anchorage, and he took both children to see a professional counselor in late June. Benjamin showed the counselor pictures of the bruises, advised her of the younger child’s feminine phase, and expressed concern about possible physical and emotional abuse of the children in Kristen’s household.

In mid-July 2013 Benjamin filed a motion to modify custody based on his concerns about physical and emotional abuse of the children while with Kristen. After the hearing, the superior court concluded that there had been a substantial change of circumstances affecting the children because of Kristen’s “domestic violence and inability to deal
with her child’s transgender issue.”

Kristen appealed, and the Supreme Court of Alaska rejected her appeal.

KRISTEN L. V. BENJAMIN W., Supreme Court No