Legal Reasons to Change a Minor's Last Name

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Legal Reasons to Change a Minor's Last Name

By Christine Funk, J.D.

There are many reasons parents may choose to change their children's last names. Names are important, and a name change can serve as official notice that a change in status is occurring. In most cases and in most jurisdictions, changing a child's last name must occur as a separate court action.

Woman and baby

Adoption or Child's Preference

When a family adopts a child, changing the child's last name to match that of the family just makes sense. In a closed or open adoption, the child enters the home bearing the last name of either their birth mother or birth father. After finalizing the adoption, the last name of the child is legally changed to match that of the adopting family.

When a stepparent adopts a child, courts take a similar approach. Depending on how the birth parent and the stepparent have chosen to use last names for the family—taking one last name, one person hyphenating their old and new last names, or both taking on a hyphenated last name—the child's last name will reflect these choices once the adoption is complete.

Once a child reaches a certain age, courts consider the wishes of the child when it comes to their last name. While a child cannot independently attempt to change their last name, if they have the support of their parent or parents and it is in the child's best interests, courts will consider a motion to change a child's last name based on the child's preference.

Marriage or Divorce

Sometimes, when parents divorce, if one parent is awarded the majority of custody, they may choose to change the child's last name. This is particularly true in cases where the parent changes their last name following the divorce. There are many reasons why having a child with the same last name as the custodial parent makes sense. This includes dealing with the child's school, the child's medical care team, summer camp, boy scouts and girl scouts, and any number of other parent-child related activities.

Sometimes, even if the stepparent doesn't choose to adopt the child, a blended family may decide to share a common last name. This could be the last name of one of the parents, a hyphenated last name, or even a name that represents the combining of the two last names. In any event, in some families, often for reasons such as those stated above, it makes sense for all of the children and their parents and stepparents to have the same last name.

Additionally, there may be some cases where two people have a child prior to marriage. If the couple later decides to get married, they may decide on a different last name than the last name one or both of them chose upon the birth of the child.

Paternity Issues

Sometimes the father's identity is not known or provided at the time of a child's birth. Once paternity has been established through a blood test, the parents may decide to change the child's last name to match that of the child's father. If the parents do not agree, the father can petition the court to change the child's last name. However, the court will decide the matter using the "best interests of the child" standard. The father does not automatically get to change the child's last name over the mother's objection.

When seeking a name change for a minor, the procedure requires filing the relevant documents with the court and paying the designated fee. Each jurisdiction has their own process for this. However, most jurisdictions publish their process online or have a packet of information available at the court clerk's office.

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.