What Do I Need to Know When Changing My Minor Child's Name?
"Best Interest of the Child" Standard
Courts adhere to the "best interest of the child" standard when making a decision that affects a minor child. As long as the judge determines the name change is in the best interest of the child, you shouldn't encounter any problems. Judges consider several factors, which include, but are not limited to:
- The minor's preference, in light of the minor's age and experience;
- The effect of a name change on the development and preservation of the minor's relationship with each parent;
- The length of time a minor has used a name;
- The difficulties, harassment, or embarrassment a minor may experience from the present or proposed name;
- The possibility that a different name may cause the minor insecurity and lack of identity; and
- The motive or interests of the custodial parent and whether the other parent agrees.
Most forms to change the minor's name will ask for the reason of the name change. When stating that reason, it would be good to consider whether the reason aligns with the best interest of the child. You cannot change a minor's name to avoid legal obligations, or to harm or defraud another person.
What Documents Do I Need in Order to File a Name Change for a Minor?
Most states require the following when filing for a name change:
- A Petition/Application for the minor's name change
- A certified copy of the minor's birth certificate
- Photo ID of the person filing the name change on behalf of the minor
- Consent from the non-filing parent (or from both parents if they are alive and the name change is being filed by a legal guardian)
- If the other parent is deceased, most states will require a certified copy of the death certificate
- A Notice of Hearing (if the court you are filing in requires a hearing)
- An Order for Name Change (which will be signed by the judge if he/she approves the name change)
What if the Other Parent will not Consent to the Name Change?
States typically require the non-consenting parent to file a written objection with the court (detailing the reasons for the objection), and most courts have a form for this. When the court receives the objection, the name-change process generally can't go through without a hearing. If the non-consenting parent doesn't file a written objection, it's possible that the judge will assume the non-consenting parent doesn't care and simply approve the name change without requiring an appearance in court. In the states always requires a hearing, the non-consenting parent may be requied to voice his/her objections to the name change at the hearing. Should the non-consenting parent not show up to object, the judge will take this into consideration when deciding to approve or deny the name change.
What if the Other Parent is Not Involved in the Minor's Life?
The court will always require the parent filing the name change to notify the other parent. Most times this is accomplished by serving the other parent with a copy of the name change petition, so they have the opportunity to either consent to or object to the name change. If the other parent cannot be found, or there is no known address for that parent, the court will require notice of the intent to change the child's name to be published in a newspaper. States vary on this requirement, so it is best to ask the court clerk what the requirement for your specific court is.
If a non-parental legal guardian is filing the Petition to Change Name on behalf of the child, both parents must be served with a copy of the name change petition, and then can either consent to the name change or object to the name change. If the parents are deceased, the court will require certified copies of the death certificates. If the parents have relinquished their legal rights over the child, the guardian will need to submit that paperwork to the court.
What if the Father's Name is not on the Birth Certificate?
In cases where the father's name is not on the birth certificate, the standard is that the mother retains all legal rights over the child. If an unwed father is not listed on the birth certificate, he has no legal rights to the child. Typically, the father would need to go through the legal process of establishing paternity over the child before he had a legal right to object to the name change.