How to Argue a Child's Best Interest for a Name Change

By Valerie Stevens

The standard most courts apply when making decisions about changing a child’s name is that the change should be in the best interests of the child. Historically, paternity was usually the deciding factor: The child used the father's surname. However, most modern courts consider a specific list of factors in determining what is best for the child, as opposed to the parents, when ruling on name changes. To argue for the name change of a minor child, you must address the factors considered by the court.

The standard most courts apply when making decisions about changing a child’s name is that the change should be in the best interests of the child. Historically, paternity was usually the deciding factor: The child used the father's surname. However, most modern courts consider a specific list of factors in determining what is best for the child, as opposed to the parents, when ruling on name changes. To argue for the name change of a minor child, you must address the factors considered by the court.

Argument

The key to making an argument to change a child’s name is to present the legal reasons for the change and show a judge that it is in the best interests of the child. The easiest way to convince a judge is to point to the factors put forth in state laws that support the request. You must clearly present reasons to the court in a written petition, oral arguments or both.

Get help changing your legal name. Learn More

Strategy

Lawyers suggest beginning with your strongest argument and sticking to the reasons that have a factual basis without clouding your presentation with irrelevant statements. Some lawyers advise limiting your arguments to the three strongest points, while addressing issues that might contradict your case in a factual manner. Some courts might appoint a guardian ad litem, who is a lawyer or trained volunteer who represents the child, and judges will give weight to this person's opinion. Psychologists or other experts can also be used to bolster your argument.

Family

The specific guidelines courts take into consideration vary from state to state, but the overriding factor in determining the best interest of the child is determining what fosters the natural bond between the child and his parents and maintains family unity. To argue in favor of a name change, you must show that the change will preserve the family unit. If changing a child’s name would cause a break in a parent-child relationship, courts tend to rule against the change. The general consensus is that a child should have the same name as the family he lives with. If a mother with sole custody divorces the natural father and remarries, a judge is likely to favor changing the child’s surname to that of the stepfather if other factors support the change.

Child's Preference

While courts will consider the wishes of a child who is of the age and maturity to establish a legitimate preference, many judges give the wishes of the parents more weight. On the other hand, most courts consider the length of time a child has used a certain surname and lean against changing a name when it has been used for a long time. For example it might be difficult to convince a judge to change the name of a 15-year-old unless his best interest clearly would be served by the change.

Community

The length of time a child has used a certain name also factors into his identity within the community. The fact that a child is known to schools and doctors by a certain name could contribute to a decision to keep that name. Judges will consider whether a child could suffer embarrassment by having a different name from the rest of his family. The degree of respect associated with the current and proposed names also can be a factor. For example, if a child is known by the surname of a father who has been convicted of serious crimes, the argument can be made that the child would be better off using another name.

Get help changing your legal name. Learn More
Child Custody Rights for 12 Years & Older

References

Related articles

Illinois Custody Laws After Divorce

For married couples who no longer get along, a divorce may be the best option. However, parents have an obligation to work together after a divorce to promote the healthy development of their children. In Illinois, a judge must make all custody determinations based on the best interests of the child. Understanding which factors a judge looks at in making decisions, as well as the importance of being able to communicate with your former spouse, will ensure a custody arrangement that benefits both parents and the child.

Why Are Mothers Granted Custody in Most Divorces?

Custody laws are in place to further the best interests of a child after divorce. Although these matters are no longer decided on the basis of a parent's gender alone, a mother still often receives sole custody. This is generally based on a deference afforded to the parent that is most involved in the child's day-to-day upbringing.

California Laws on Teenage Custody Wishes

Custody determinations often have a significant impact on the life of a child. For that reason, California law provides judges with the discretion to consider a teenager's preference, if the child is capable of making a reasonable choice. Also, teenagers 14 and older may generally participate in the proceedings and offer input, regardless of whether the court ultimately considers the child's preference.

Doing the right thing has never been easier.

Related articles

Can Physical Custody Be Changed for Children When Parents Have Joint Legal Custody?

In many instances, it is possible for parents to change their children’s physical custody arrangement when the ...

How Is Child Custody Decided In Divorce?

Every state defers to a concept called the “best interests of the child” when deciding custody issues. But ...

When Can a Child Decide to Live With the Other Divorced Parent by Washington State Law?

In many states, including Washington, courts in custody cases may consider the wishes of a child in terms of which ...

Reasons Not to Grant a Legal Name Change

In the United States, people have the right to go by the names they choose. However, for a name change to be legally ...

Browse by category