When You Want to Change Your Child’s Surname

change your child's surname

You may have good cause to want to change your child’s surname. Even if the parents were never married, many children bear their father’s last name. Some view this as creating an uncomfortable situation. As far as they’re concerned, it creates a bit of an identity crisis.

In the first place, parents who never wed don’t usually share the same surnames. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the mother goes through the legal steps of changing her last name. Additionally, there’s always the chance that mom decided to give the child her surname at the time the birth certificate was issued.

In either circumstance, one of the parents winds up with a different last name from the child. Meanwhile, there are other considerations. What if the parents were married and divorce? What if the mother decides to return to her maiden name?

Generally speaking, you wouldn’t be unusual f you want to change your child’s surname for another reason. If you’re remarrying and plan to take your spouse’s name, you may think it’s in your child’s best interests. After all, you’re hoping your second chance means you’ll all be a happy family.

Stepparent adoption is one avenue for consideration when you want to change your child’s surname. While this alleviates child support obligations, it also creates a disconnect as far as parenting.  When it comes to adoption, the other parent needs to consent. Notwithstanding, the court could also remove parental rights.

Truth be told, neither parent can unilaterally change a child’s last name. Courts look at a number of factors when it comes to changing a child’s surname. Upon review, the list makes sense as it pertains to the child’s identity.

Mother Wanted to Change Child’s Surname

Last month, the New Jersey Appellate Division considered a case where the mother wanted to change the child’s surname.  The court denied her first attempt to do so. However, she filed a second application, which the judge granted.

According to the case history, the parents in this matter never married one another. When the court approved the second application, their child was eleven years old. At the time of his birth, both the mother and father agreed to give him the father’s surname.

From the beginning, the couple engaged in extensive litigation regarding custody, visitation, and support. The court named the mother as the parent of primary residence. Although it is unclear when she married, her new husband had two sons of his own. The mother first filed for a name change in 2017.

The court denied the first application to allow the father “to take a more active role and to be more involved in his son’s life.” According to the mother, that never happened. She waited more than a year before she filed a second application.  In fact, she processed the legal papers on her own.

  The child was already using the mother’s new last name in school. However, the teachers told the family it was not permissible without a legal name change. Consequentially, the mother decided to fight on behalf of her son. She even read a letter into the record stating it was the child’s desire to change his name.

Notably, the father was without legal counsel in court. He asked that the matter be adjourned until disposition of papers he filed regarding visitation.  At the same time, he admitted that he made no attempts to see his son in the last year and a half.  According to the father, the mother resisted previous attempts for visitation.

Name Change Granted

In making a case against the name change, the father addressed his son’s wishes. He felt that if his son had a chance to spend with his “real family,” he’d look at it differently.

Nonetheless, the court granted the mother’s application.  In the first place, it appeared in the child’s best interests. Additionally, the child appeared to identify with his new family.  The judge went over the many reasons supporting the decision, which was granted in accordance with NJSA 2A:52-1.

Ultimately, the father retained an attorney who sought reconsideration of the decision. Defense counsel made several assertions – many of which appeared related to self-representation.

Although the trial court considered the attorney’s arguments, it still found that the mother met the requisite burden of proof that the name change was in the child’s best interests. The decision was based on recognized case law regarding issues like this one.

Upon review, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court. It affirmed the decision allowing the name change.

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At the Law Offices of Sam Stoia, we recognize that children are often the focus in family court matters. Give us a call to see how we can help you. There is no charge for the first hour of our time.

When You Want to Change Your Child’s Surname