Parents often seek court approval to change a child’s last name so the child will have the same surname as the family the child lives with, for the sake of convenience in dealing with schools and for cultural reasons. Children often suffer confusion and embarrassment when their names are different from their parents. While a woman can legally change her last name as part of a marriage or divorce, a minor child’s name change usually must be handled in a separate action.
Marriage is a common reason that parents seek a legal surname change for a minor child. When a mother marries a man who is not her child’s father and decides to take his surname, she often wants her child to take her new last name. Parents want the child to identify as a part of the new family.
Some people seek to change a child’s last name when they divorce. A woman who resumes the use of her maiden name might prefer that her children have her last name if she is the primary custodian.
A victim of domestic abuse might seek a name change for herself and her child to protect them from their abuser. Under these circumstances, some states will allow a minor’s name to be changed as a part of the divorce or protective order proceeding.
Sometimes parents want to change the name of a minor when the child was given the mother’s surname at birth. If the biological parents marry after the child is born, some states will allow the child’s surname to be changed to the father’s name as part of marriage. Otherwise, if an action has been filed and paternity acknowledged, the father can ask the court to change the child’s last name to his.
A name change is often a part of an adoption proceeding and many states do not require a separate action for the name change. Whether the adoption is a stepparent adoption or an international adoption, the new parents usually want the child to have their family name.
When a child reaches a certain age in most states, the court considers the child's preference regarding a name change. The judge will hear from the child on a name change sought by his parents, but a child cannot seek a name change independently until he reaches the age of 18. However, if parents and children agree and the court is convinced it is in the best interests of the child, a name change is usually allowed.