Change of Name for Children
It is perhaps surprisingly often that we are asked to advise on changing a child’s surname, usually following a relationship breakdown, or the restructuring of a family unit.
The decision to change a child's name is one of great importance and ought not to be taken unilaterally. Where a parent considers that circumstances are such that a change is in the best interests of a child, the appropriate course of action is to seek the other parents consent, and if this is not given, to apply to the court for permission to make the change.
Provisions relating to change of a child's surname can be complicated depending upon the family circumstances, and it is important to take legal advice to ensure that any attempt to change a child's name will be legally effective.
When the parents are, or have been, married to each other, they will have a joint parental responsibility, and if they are both in agreement then they have the right to change both the child's forenames and surname. This can be done merely by assuming the use of the new name, although it is advisable to prove the change by executing and enrolling a deed poll.
In the case of unmarried parents, if the child was born before 1 December 2003 then the father does not have Parental Responsibility unless he has subsequently obtained it either by marrying the mother, by obtaining a Residence Order, by entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement or by obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order.
Accordingly, the mother can change the child's surname without consulting the father in these circumstances, but the father can apply to the court to reverse the change by applying for a Specific Issues Order.
As a matter of practicality it is always best to seek to consult the father.
In the event of a dispute, an application should be made to the court. There is a volume of decided cases upon the subject which lay down guidelines, but each case is decided on its own facts and merits and all relevant issues must be considered.
It is for the person seeking to change the child's surname to justify the change. The child’s welfare is paramount.