Right of Putative Father to have his Child Bear his Surname

In some instances, a putative father who gains custody or visitation of his child may want the child’s surname changed from that of the mother’s to his own. Neither parent has a paramount right over the other to assign to the child a particular surname, even in those jurisdictions that statutorily mandate the child’s surname initially is to be that of the mother.
Variations in No Initial Surname Cases versus Change of Name Cases
It is generally accepted that cases involving disputes over the surname of a child born out of wedlock will be resolved by determining the ”best interests of the child,” and the party seeking the change of name has the burden of proving that the change is in the child’s best interests. However, states may distinguish between a ”no initial surname” case, in which the standard is the child’s best interests, from a ”change of name” case, in which a name change only is warranted if it is in the child’s best interests and the moving party shows extreme circumstances warranting the change.
Best Interests Analysis
In determining whether a name change is in the best interests of the child, courts look at a number of factors as part of the ”best interests” analysis, including:  
  • The length of time the child has used the surname.
  • The potential impact of the requested name change on the child’s relationship with each parent.
  • The child’s preference.
  • Any misconduct by a parent that would justify a name change.
  • The motivation of the parties.
  • The identification of the child as part of a family unit.
  • The embarrassment, discomfort or inconvenience that may result if the child’s surname differs from that of the custodial parent.
  • The possibility that a different name may cause insecurity or lack of identity;
  • The confusion or embarrassment of siblings.
  • Whether the child holds property in his or her name.
  • Failure of one parent to contribute to the child’s support or maintain contact with the child.
  • The degree of community respect associated with the present and proposed surnames.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.