Sometimes a divorcing mother who gains custody of a child resumes the use of her former surname and would like to change the child’s last name, as well. There may also be other circumstances that spark a parent’s desire to change a child’s surname. This article discusses the legal rules that govern surname changes of children.
You can change your child’s surname by submitting a name change application to the Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages. If both parents are living, they must both sign the application. If one parent has died, the signature of the surviving parent is sufficient.
Submit the application in the state where the child’s birth was registered. The law in that state may limit when or how often you can apply for a name change. The law may also require your child’s consent if your child has reached the age of 12.
As a general rule, you cannot change the last name of your child without the other parent’s permission unless you can persuade a court to authorize the change. That rule does not apply if both of the following are true:
You can call your child by any name you like. That includes the child’s surname. For legal purposes, however, you must use the last name that appears on the child’s birth certificate if the child’s name has not been legally changed. For example, if you apply for a passport for the child, you would be required to use the child’s legal surname.
The court will only grant an application to change a child’s surname if the change is in the child’s best interests. The court will consider the impact on the child of keeping the child’s current name versus the impact of changing the name. For example, if the child lives with the mother and is embarrassed by having a different last name, that factor might influence the court’s decision.
If the child currently has the father’s name, the court will consider the nature and extent of the relationship between the father and the child. The court will also consider how the name change might affect the child’s relationship with each parent.
If you are on the birth certificate or have been granted shared parental responsibility for the child, you can prevent a name change by withholding your consent. If the other parent applies to the court for a name change, you will need to persuade the court that either:
the other parent has no good reason to seek the change (mere convenience or spite is a good reason), or
the name change would be contrary to the child’s best interests.
Keep in mind that your argument should be focused on what is best for your child, not on what is best for you. The child’s welfare is always the court’s utmost concern.