“Can I Change My Child’s Name If My Ex Objects?”

There are several times when the name of a child can be an issue after separation. These are usually cases here the parents were not married and the child has either the father or the mother’s last name only, although there are other unusual circumstances that may come up where a name change is appropriate.

The bottom line on this issue is that there is no clear rule: the judge will base his or her decision on what is in the best interests of the minor. This is the sole consideration of the judge, rather than the feelings or opinions of the parties. J. v. Evna M. (1978) 81 Cal. App. 3d 929, 936, 937, 147 Cal. Rptr. 15. Neither party, either the mother or the father, has any inherent right to have the child bear their name.

The application of that standard is very open to interpretation. What is actually in the best interest of the minor? In my experience, if both parents are involved in the child’s life, the court will often lean towards either a) leaving the name the way the parents put it on the birth certificate, or b) hyphenating the last name. In re Marriage of Schiffman (1980) 28 Cal. 3d 640, 645, 647, 169 Cal. Rptr. 918, 620 P.2d 579.

In cases where one parent is very uninvolved, the court will often make the last name match the parent the child lives with. Those cases almost always involve one parent having sole legal and physical custody.

In general, this is not a battleground that judges are very happy to have to sort out—it is a hard issue for children who are already dealing with separation and visitation, and it often signals a high level of conflict between the parties. It is important to make sure you have a good reason for a name change before you bring a request in family law court.

DISCLAIMER: All legal principles quoted are valid as of the date of writing in the State of California. However, you should NEVER base your actions on a legal article, blog, or internet story, as facts in real life are complicated. You should have your case evaluated by an attorney experienced in the area of law needed for your case. In addition, there are often exceptions and potential changes to results that occur due to facts that you may think are trivial or unimportant. This article should not be taken in any way as legal advice on your specific legal matter.