When couples decide to get a divorce, there are typically certain issues most expect to be challenged, such as child support, alimony, child custody, and property division. However, a less common issue during the divorce process is your child's last name. It's common for a wife to restore her maiden name, but will you change your child's last name?
Most often in a divorce, the wife will return back to her maiden name, but not want to change the last name of their child. But there are situations when the wife will have a desire to change child's last name to her maiden name too. In these situations, it often becomes a hotly contested issue between the divorcing couples.
So, if you've gotten divorced, you might have changed back to your maiden name. You might also wonder if you can change your child's last name as well. Doing so can clear up confusion going forward about whether you are really the child's parent.
Under California law, you absolutely can request a change to your child's last name, but you need a legitimate reason for the request. Sometimes, a parent wants to change the name for an invalid reason, like “getting back” at a parent, which will not be successful. Meet with our experienced California divorce lawyers if you need assistance.
Court Ruling on Child's Name Change
In some divorce cases, you might be able to reach an agreement on changing your child's last name with your spouse. However, in other cases, this sensitive issue might require court intervention. As with most issues that involve children in a divorce, the court's primary concern is what is in the best interest of the child.
It should be noted a petition for a name change is not typically part of your divorce decree. Instead, it's a separate legal action after a divorce. When a family law court is attempting to determine whether a name change is in the child's best interest, they will consider many different factors including the following:
- Length of time of child's current name
- Relationship with father
- Negative or positive consequences of changing name
- If child needs to identify with new family, such as remarriage
As stated, the court will use these important factors as a guide and will make a decision on what they believe is in the best interest of the child. However, there are certain situations in a divorce where a name change is necessary, such as a parent terminating their parental rights or they were involved in criminal activity.
Valid Reasons to Request a Name Change
A judge must approve the name change, so you need to convince them that the name change is a good idea. As discussed above, it can't be overstated that when it comes to children and divorce, judges always decide issues based on what is in the child's “best interest.” This means you'll need to come forward with a valid reason for wanting to change your child's last name.
For example, some of our clients have requested name changes for the following reasons:
- The biological parent was abusive to the child
- The biological parent has no desire to stay in the child's life
- The biological parent has had his parental rights terminated
- Your child is about to be adopted by a step-parent
These are all legitimate reasons which a judge will thoroughly consider. It also helps if an older child agrees to the change. A judge will factor in a teenager's opinion about what name they want.
However, you can't really request a name change simply because you are angry at your ex and want to use a name change to “strike back” at him—something that still happens during divorce. Judges will not allow squabbling adults to use children as pawns, so make sure you have a valid reason for requesting the change. If you have a question, reach out to a Los Angeles divorce attorney for help.
Prepare for the Other Parent to Object
If you're a mom trying to make a name change for her child, realize you do not have an automatic right to request the name change. The judge will listen to both sides and will certainly consider the father's objections. If the father is still involved in your child's life and there has been no extensive abuse, then a father very well could block any name change.
When you file a petition for a name change with the court, you must give the other biological parent notice. This typically means paying someone to serve the papers personally. The other parent then has a certain amount of time to file an objection with the court, explaining his reasons, and must serve a copy on you. (Tip: if your spouse has been abusive to you, let the court know. They will not turn over your address to your spouse.)
If the other parent doesn't object to your request, then you will publish a notice in a newspaper about the change, and the judge will sign off on it. However, if the other parent objects, he should file a legal pleading explaining why, and the court will schedule a hearing for the matter.
Our Los Angeles divorce lawyers present different types of evidence at a contested hearing, depending on the reasons for requesting the change. For example, if your ex has abused your child, you can present police reports and witness testimony.
What to Do after Approval
After a judge signs off on the name change, you will want certified copies of the court decree. You will need these documents to change your child's name on other documents, such as:
- Birth certificate
- Immigration records
- Social Security card
- School records
- Driver's license
Contact the appropriate office and ask how to change a name. For example, the DMV can tell you what to do to change your teen's driver's license. A Social Security office can help you change the name on a Social Security card. It is better to have too many copies of the certified decree because you never know when you will need them. Contact the court clerk to check how much it costs to get each copy.
Speak with a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney
If the family law courts decide to grant a name change for your child, it doesn't always change the relationship with the father. The father's issues on child custody, child support, and visitation time will normally remain the same.
Changing a child's name can become a hotly debated issue, but the court will decide based on the child's best interest. If a child is a certain age, their preference is a factor in the decision. Changing a child's name is usually straightforward. However, if the other parent objects, you will need a legal advocate to help you convince a judge that you have a valid reason for the change. We are experienced Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys who can help you. Contact our law firm for a free consultation and guidance at 818-528-3471.
Furman & Zavatsky LLP
15821 Ventura Blvd #690
Encino, CA 91436