Changing your child’s name after divorce

Continuing in my series on name changes after divorce, let’s talk about children. Louise at first decided she would keep her married name but two years after her divorce she decided to go back to her maiden name. Her seventh-grade daughter has also decided to change her name while her high-school freshman son wants to keep what he presently goes by.

My daughter would actually like to have just my maiden name but my ex would prefer that she keep his last name. So she’s going to hyphenate mine with her father’s name. For a while my son was going to change his last name to something entirely different and have both mine and my ex’s names as his middle name. He’s now decided to stay as he is. I think he feels like he’s too old. He doesn’t want to stand out. He doesn’t want to have to explain it to other kids at school but he likes that he’s different from his sister. We’ve talked about us all having different names and how it doesn’t mean we don’t belong together anymore. We are still a family.

Attorney Judy LaBuda says changing a child’s name is a much harder process than changing yours and is completely separate from divorce proceedings. You have to go to court to do it and the rules differ by state. “I think it is highly unusual for a court, in my experience, to grant a name change of a child if the other parent objects to it, if that parent is involved in the child’s life,” said Judy. “Most of the time what you see is a woman being the one who wants to change the children’s name because 99 percent of the time the kids already have the dad’s name.”

Don’t think just because the father is not involved it’s going to be easy. “The cases I took to trial were all cases where the woman was the primary parent after the dissolution,” Judy recalls. “The dad was not paying child support and the dad had no contact with the children. But, in every one of them the dad showed up to object to a name change. I think that the court will often times grant the name change but it is very fact specific.

“The court is more likely to grant a hyphenated name change I think rather than just taking the father’s name away from the child unless the father is completely uninvolved in the child’s life. I’ve also seen judges, particularly older judges and particularly male judges who don’t want to give a child a hyphenated name because they say it becomes too confusing for the child – it’s too long for the child and that it causes the child problems as they grow up.”

What do you think? Did you change your children’s names after your divorce or wish that you had? Do your children want to change how they’re known? Should the divorce process make provision for changing children’s names?

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