Hello. My Name Is...

My ex-girlfriend and I have a six-month old daughter. We separated while my ex was still pregnant and I was not at the hospital when our daughter was born because she did not call me. My daughter was not given my last name – does this affect my ability to have custody? Can I change her name?

We all know someone who has been in a situation like this. Fortunately, a child’s name has little bearing on paternity, custody, or visitation. There are a few options to change a minor’s name and many reasons to consider doing so.

Our names help define us. They give us a sense of being and belonging. We are identified by our names and our names are literally and figuratively our identities. Family names and surnames are very important to some people. They are also important for us as minors in identifying with our extended families. Having the same surname as your child makes traveling easier and avoids confusion at doctor’s appointments.

Having a different surname as your child is not a denial of parental relationship and is not considered as such by the court.

The court has recognized that there are commonly disagreements on the names (more particularly surnames) given to children of parents who are not married. As such, on the Petition to Establish Parental Relationship and the Response thereto, there is a box you can check requesting that your child’s name be changed pursuant to Family Code section 7638.

However, marking it on the Petition or Response will ensure only that the name change is addressed in the judgment. The judgment is the document that contains the final orders in a particular case. Court staff will compare the Judgment to the Petition to ensure that all of the issues brought forth in the Petition were addressed in the Judgment. If an issue is not addressed in the Judgment, the Court will reject it so that the issue can be added and orders made.

If you would like to address the issue prior to judgment, or if the other parent does not agree, you should file a Request for Order with the court to change your child’s name. It is very common for courts now to hyphenate a child’s surname to include both parents’ surnames. Changing a name does not end with the hearing and there are costs involved with changing a name (in addition to the court fees) which should also be addressed at the hearing. Typically, the requesting parent is responsible for paying the additional costs.

Upon receipt of an order granting the name change, you will still need to file the necessary documents with the state for the change to take effect on the birth certificate. Changing a name on a birth certificate will usually take approximately eight months. After getting the new birth certificate, the necessary documents need to be filed with the Social Security Administration and other agencies your child is in contact with (i.e. daycares, schools, doctors, etc.) to maintain consistency.

On the contrary, if you would like to oppose a request for a name change, you will need to address that in the Responsive Declaration. Some reasons for opposing a name change are: 1) the other parent has been absent; 2) the child is older and is accustomed to using their current name; 3) the child has other siblings with the same name; and 4) a name change may cause the child feelings of abandonment. Until a request for name change has been brought before the court, there is usually no reason for a parent who wants to keep the child’s name the same to take any action.

Of course, like with most other family law issues, agreements made between the parents out of court are preferred and will almost always be upheld.

The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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