Changing My Child’s Last Name After Divorce

There are certain things you might expect to fight about during a divorce proceeding: Child custody arrangements, spousal and child support, and the division of property and assets are common examples. However, there is one issue that isn’t commonly addressed, but merits consideration in your divorce proceeding: Will you change your child’s last name? A wife might want to return to her maiden name following a divorce, but not want to change her children’s names, too. However, in certain situations, a wife might want to change her children’s names to her maiden name, which can cause some hot debate between the divorcing parents.

How Will the Courts Rule on a Name Change?

In some cases, you may be able to come to an agreement involving a name change on your own. On the other hand, this particular issue may require court intervention. As with virtually every other aspect involving children in divorce, the court will not focus on your wants or your spouse’s – rather, their only concern is what is in the best interest of the child.

It’s important to note that a petition for a name change generally isn’t part of your divorce decree. Rather, it’s a separate legal action after a divorce, though the process has some similarities. In determining whether a name change is in the child’s best interest, the courts will consider several factors, including:

  • How long the child has had their current name
  • Whether or not the child must identify with a new family unit (for example, there has been a remarriage and two families want to blend together under one name)
  • The strength of a child’s relationship with his or her father and possible negative ramifications of changing the name (i.e., psychological damage)
  • Any benefits to changing a last name (for example, the court awarded the mother sole custody)

Using these factors as a guide, the court will ultimately decide what is in the best interest of the child. In some situations, however, the circumstances of a divorce may necessitate a name change. The most common example involves a biological parent terminating his or her parental rights. Other examples might include parental abuse or involvement in criminal behavior.

What Happens After a Name Change?

If the courts decide to grant a name change for your child, it doesn’t necessarily affect the nature of the relationship or biological identity of the father. The father’s circumstances involving custody and visitation will remain the same, as will his obligation to pay child support or spousal support, if applicable. The act of changing a child’s last name cannot affect these arrangements unless the father petitions the court to amend them.

Changing a child’s name can be contentious subject. The courts will consider several factors, all of which involve determining the child’s best interest, to guide their decision. If a child is of a certain age, their preference may also play a role in the court’s decision. For more guidance in this regard, talk to an experience San Diego family law attorney.