Changing a Child’s Last Name After a Divorce

Usually, changing a child’s last name after a divorce is not too difficult. To begin the process, all you need to do is download a few basic forms for free from your county court’s website. However, keep in mind that a judge will only approve a proposed name change if it serves the best interest of your child. If your spouse objects to the proposed name change, then you will need to defend your proposal in front of a judge. Depending upon the facts you present during your contested hearing, your proposed name change may be declined.

Learn about what steps are involved in changing your child’s last name below.

“Best Interests of the Child” Standard

Again, a court will only approve a change in your child’s last name if it serves in the child’s best interest. Unfortunately, proving this “best interests of the child” standard is rather vague and applies on a case-by-case basis. While some circumstances may seem more straightforward than others, most cases leave plenty of wiggle room for opposing opinions. If you need help proving that a change in your child’s last name will serve in their best interests, consult a divorce attorney.

When Is a Judge More Likely to Approve a Name Change?

A judge is more likely to approve a child’s change in last name under the following situations. When:

  • Both parents submit a petition together (whether married or not)
  • A parent submits a petition and the other parent doesn’t object after notification
  • A parent submits a petition and the other parent has abandoned the child or cannot be found

For situations where both parents submit a petition together, the court will almost always approve that request. The same is true whether the parents are currently a couple or not.

Likewise, if only the parent that submitted the proposal shows up in court, the judge will more than likely approve the petition. However, the petitioning parent must present evidence that the other parent was officially notified of the name change petition and has failed to appear.

When Is a Judge Less Likely to Approve a Name Change?

A judge will never grant a child’s name change petition without a hearing if both parents have maintained their relationships with the child. That doesn’t mean a judge won’t ultimately grant the proposed change–it means that the court needs to listen to both parent’s arguments before deciding what serves the child’s best interests. The court will consider the following factors when making its determination:

  • how long the child has used the current last name
  • how the change in name will affect both parent’s relationships to the child
  • the strength and status of both parent’s relationships to the child
  • the child’s need to identify under a new family unit by using a common name
  • the wishes of older children
  • other facts a judge deems important to the given case

A judge will balance the above factors in order to decide whether the change in child’s last name serves in the child’s best interest.

Notifying All Interested Parties

The court will require that you notify the other parent if you’re filing a child’s name change petition alone. The same is true whether you have sole custody of the child or not. If you’re the child’s legal guardian, you also must give notice to the child’s biological parents, or to the child’s grandparents if the child’s parents are no longer alive or are unknown. When deemed appropriate, a judge may wave this notification requirement. For instance, if a mother cannot locate a father who abandoned his child, or if one of the parent’s has a history of abuse.

Ask a Divorce Attorney About Changing a Child’s Last Name

To learn more about what the court will consider when changing a child’s last name after a divorce, contact a family law attorney at the Law Offices of Rick D. Banks.