Father's Rights in a Child's Last Name Change

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Father's Rights in a Child's Last Name Change

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

A father has the right to change a child's last name but only if he is the legal father. He must have legal parental rights and the approval of the child's mother to change his son's or daughter's name.


A father could have several reasons for wanting to change a child's name, including marriage, divorce from the child's mother, or the child's preference. However, when requesting a name change, the father must demonstrate to the court that the switch is in the best interest of his child. For example, a child's best interest includes safety, consistency, or the child's relationship to the father.

Man and son sitting next to each other on a blue couch each using a tablet

Establishing Legal Rights Over a Child

A legal father is not necessarily a child's biological father. A legal father has court-ordered parental rights that allow him to spend time with the child and make decisions on the child's behalf.

If a father is married to his child's mother at birth, then he automatically assumes the legal rights of establishing paternity the child. However, if the mother and father aren't married at their child's birth, then the father must with the court. He can do this by listing his name on the birth certificate, taking a paternity test, or asking the court for a ruling on paternity.

Each state has different rules for establishing paternity. Make sure you check with your local court for the requirements.

Legal Rights in Naming a Child

Both legal parents have the right to name a child or to request a name change. However, one parent can't change a child's name without the approval of the other parent. Thus, if the mother doesn't approve, then the father requesting the name change must file a petition with the court for a decision.

If a father wants to change his child's name, first he files an application for a name change with the court and pays any filing fees. He also needs to notify the mother of his intent to change the child's name. Each state has different rules for notification. Be sure to check with your local family court for the requirements.

The father needs to submit any documents supporting his request for the name change, such as legal guardianship papers or marriage certificates. The judge listens to the father's reasons for the name change, as well as any objections from the mother. Then, based on the evidence provided and the child's best interest, the judge decides on the child's name. If the child's last name is changed, then the court issues a formal document showing the new last name. The child may then begin to use the new name granted by the court.


Understanding your legal rights in changing your child's name can help you decide what steps you want to take moving ahead. Make sure you demonstrate that any legal change in your child's name is in their best interest. Check your state laws or court rules if you decide to proceed with a name change. If you need help, an experienced family law attorney can be a helpful resource.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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