Wednesday, 14 October 2015 12:00

When Parents Want to Change a Child's Name

Sometimes parents who were never married to each other want to change their child’s last name.  The result is often a hyphenated name.  The legal standard for changing a child’s last name when the parents do not agree to change it rests on a determination of the child’s best interest.  In Arizona, there is very little legal authority to guide us on a disputed child name change.

The Arizona Court of Appeals recently issued a memorandum decision regarding a disputed child name change.  The decision is not published, which means that parents and attorneys cannot use it as legal authority in the future, but it contains a useful discussion on two aspects of the legalities of a disputed child name change.

The first aspect of the name change issue is the finality of a decision on a child’s name change, or whether the parties may bring more than one petition to change their child’s name.  The father in this case had twice brought unsuccessful petitions to change his child’s last name, and both times the mother opposed it.  Both times the court denied the petition for name change.  The father later brought another petition to change the child’s name.  This time the court granted the petition.  On appeal, the mother argued that the previous petitions for a change of name were denied and that the court could not revisit the issue.  The Court of Appeals ruled, "We disagree with Mother that once the court denied Father’s name-change request, it could not revisit the issue, as this is a decision controlled by the child’s best interests, which may change over time."

The second aspect of the name change issue is the factors that the court must examine in determining a child’s best interest regarding a name change.  The factors are 1) the child’s preference; 2) the effect of the proposed change on the preservation and development of the child’s relationship with each parent; 3) how long the child has had his or her current name; 4) the difficulties that the child may experience in having the current or proposed name; and 5) the motives of the parents and the possibility that a name change will cause insecurity or a lack of identity.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had properly considered these factors and affirmed the ruling.

You can review the Court of Appeals decision here: https://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/OpinionFiles/Div1/2015/CV14-0328%20FC.pdf

If you have questions about a child’s name change or any other family law matter, please call Thomas A. Morton, PLLC for a consultation.

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