Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Can I Legally Change My Child’s Name?
Parents can petition the Court to legally change their child’s name. Such petitions are filed through the Probate Court. If both parents agree that the change is in the child’s best interest, it is a simple process involving basic paperwork and a filing fee. However, there are often cases where one parent requests the name change and the other parent does not believe the change is in the child’s best interest. For example, if the parents are unmarried, the mother may have chosen the child’s name without any input from the father and the father, after obtaining other legal rights such as parenting time and/or custodial rights, may request that the child have his last name instead of mother’s last name. In other cases, the child may have the father’s last name, but due to specific circumstances, mother may no longer believe it is in the child’s best interest to retain that last name.
If one parent is seeking a change over the other parent’s objection, the parent petitioning the court bears the burden to establish that the requested change is in the child’s best interest. The Court will consider a number of factors including the length of time the child has used a surname, the effect of the name change on the father-child and mother-child relationship, the identification of the child as part of a family unit, embarrassment, discomfort or inconvenience that may result with a child bears a surname different from the custodial parent’s, and the preference of the child if the child is of an age and maturity to express a meaningful preference.
When both parents are active, involved parents who have a strong relationship with the child, it can be difficult to prove that replacing one parent’s surname with another parent’s surname is in the child’s best interest. The Courts have repeatedly found that the long standing tradition of a child taking the father’s surname alone is not a sufficient reason to change a child last name. Instead, the Court has often looked to hyphenation as the best solution, finding that a combined surname recognizes each parent’s legitimate claims and threatens neither parent’s rights. This solution allows the child to have the opportunity to grow up identifying with both sides of his or her family.
There can be circumstances in which it is in the child’s best interest to remove one parent’s surname. For example, in cases where the parent has been absent from the child’s life for a significant period of time, and fails to provide any emotional and/or financial support for the child the court may find it is appropriate to remove that surname. Additionally, if there is significant information available online regarding a parent’s criminal history, the court may find that the child could suffer extreme embarrassment and discomfort from being linked with said parent. In our increasingly digital world, the court could consider search results from Google as to how the child’s could be negatively impacted by having said parent’s surname.
Overall, the Court’s focus in making any change to a child’s name will be the best interest of the child. The parent will need to focus the evidence they present on the child’s needs as opposed to the importance of the surname to the parent or societal norms.