Changing a Child’s Last Name

What’s in a name?  Well, for some people, a lot.  At divorce, one parent may want to change their child’s last name.  Usually this involves creating a hyphenated last name, so that the child’s surname contains both parents’ surnames.

If the parties agree to the change, this is easy. You can include this change in the Divorce Judgment and/or Marital Settlement Agreement.  If the parties do not agree, the parent who wishes to change the name must file a motion, using the FL-300 form, and the court will decide.

In making that determination, the court will be guided by the best interests of the child.  This means that the focus is on the child and the ways that a name change would either benefit the child, or not.  The factors that the court will look at in determining what surname is in the child’s best interests reflect this child-centered focus.  Among them are:

  1. The length of time the child has used a particular name;
  2. The nature of the child’s relationships with his or her respective parents;
  3. The effect of any proposed name on those relationships; and
  4. The child’s need to identify with a particular family unit through the use of a common name.

In other words, the court will consider all of the benefits a child derives from a last name he/she already has, for example a close connection with the parent whose surname the child already shares.  It will also consider the benefits which would arise from the change, for example a younger child may feel more closely connected to both sides of his family with a hyphenated last name.  Weighing those competing sides, the court will determine what surname is in the child’s best interests.

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