Posted by familylaw on 20th December 2011

The desire to change a child’s surname frequently arises following the breakdown of a relationship.

As with most aspects of divorce, this is an emotional and complex issue and it is vital to seek quality legal advice. A name has a lot of feeling and history invested in it, and it can be the cause of a good deal of animosity.

Once divorced, you may choose to revert back to your maiden name and wish to change the surname of your children to be in-keeping with this. This is especially true if you remarry and take the name of your new partner and wish your children to do the same. In some cases, the new marriage produces new children and you may wish for all the children to take the name of your new partner.

What can you do if you wish to change your child’s surname?

In the first instance, it is best to approach your ex and tell him of your intent to change your child’s surname. Most often, however, the children’s father will object to this and therefore, you will need to apply to the court for permission. As the children’s father, he can attend court and put his case forward as to why the name should remain unchanged.

Do you need the father’s consent?

Yes. If you change your child’s surname in opposition to the wishes of their father he can apply under the Children’s Act and ask the court to decide under a ‘specific issue’ whether the name change should be allowed.

How does the court decide if both parents disagree?

Whether you have been married or not, if the children were registered at birth with the father’s surname and you have all lived together as a family for many years with that surname, the court will decide what is in the best interest of the children. For example, if you have remarried and wish to change the children’s name to that of your new partner in order to provide a whole family identity, the courts may weigh that up against the link their existing surname provides with their parentage. Whereas, if you were not together as a family for very long and you remarry and have subsequent children with a new husband, the courts may decide it is in the child’s best interests to have the new family name. Each case is individual and it is essential to take good quality legal advice at every stage.

The courts may also consider double-barreled surnames to keep the attachment to the fathers surname and the mums’ maiden name (or new married name). That is generally the compromise that is reached.

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