Family Lawyer Discusses Name Changes for Adults and Children
Any time that someone wants to change their name, and the change is not due to a marriage or divorce, that person must file a petition with the court to seek permission for the name change. Due to a risk of fraud and the fear that some individuals may try to change their name to avoid creditors or criminal penalties, the court has discretion on whether or not to grant the requested name change. The court also has discretion to deny a requested name change if it would lead to difficulty with identification or if the requested name has an offensive connotation. For adults, the standard that the court follows is whether the name change comports “with good sense, common decency and fairness to all concerned and to the public.” Petition of Falcucci, 50 A.2d 200 (Pa. 1947). There are few other parameters that the court must consider when deciding a petition to change the name of an adult.
When a child’s name is at issue, however, the standard that the court must follow is whether the name change is in the child’s best interest. In re: Grimes, 609 A.2d 158 (Pa. 1992). The burden of proving that a name change is in the child’s best interest is on the party proposing the name change. The court will consider the bonds between the child and his or her parents, whether a particular name carries any social stigma or respect within the child’s community, and the child’s understanding of the implications of the name change. A parent’s desire to share a name with his or her child, in and of itself, is not enough to meet the burden of proving that it is in the child’s best interest to change their name.
Sometimes, after parents separate, they end up disagreeing on whether a child’s name should be changed. In that case, the parent seeking to change the child’s name would be considered the Petitioner and the other parent would have an opportunity to object as the Respondent. This situation commonly arises when parents were not married at the time of their child’s birth, since the default is for child of unwed parents to be given the mother’s last name when no other name is requested. 28 Pa. Code § 1.6. But it can also arise when the parents were married but the mother did not assume the father’s last name, where a child is being raised by someone other than his or her parents, or where a parent changes his or her last name due to a subsequent marriage.
This situation is illustrated by the case of T.W. v. D.A., 127 A.3d 826 (Pa. Super. 2015). There, when the child was born he was given his mother’s last name. At some point the parties separated, and when the child was three years old his father petitioned the court because he wanted either for his son to have his last name, or for his son’s last name to be a hyphenated combination of both parents’ last names. The trial court found that father had not met his burden of proving that his proposed name change was in his son’s best interest. Although the father shared legal and physical custody of the child, the court did not believe that changing the child’s name would increase his bond with his father, or that keeping the child’s name as it was would hinder that bond. Instead, the court believed that father’s motivation in filing the petition was simply to continue on his family surname. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed.
Although this case shows that the court will not grant a name change simply on the premise that a child should have his or her father’s last name, it does not mean that the court will not grant a requested name change for other reasons. For example, in the recent case of In re: Change of Name of J.L.G., the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to change a child’s last name from the father’s name to the mother’s name (non-precedential memorandum opinion) (No. 1716 MDA 2022, Pa. Super. 2023). In that case, the father had fled from police when the child was less than a year old, and soon thereafter he was sentenced to prison for eight to twenty years. When the child was going to start elementary school, the mother filed a petition to change the child’s name, and the trial court granted the petition based on the belief that doing so provided the child with “stability, consistency, and clarity,” since she had always used her mother’s name and had such limited contact with her father.
Contact Vetrano | Vetrano & Feinman for Family Law Issues Like Name Changes
Whether you are a parent who wants to change the name of your minor child, or an adult who wants to change your own name, it is important to follow the local court’s procedures. This will include filing a petition, publishing the notice of the name change hearing, and obtaining judgment searches and fingerprint cards (if the person whose name would be changed is over a certain age). The family law attorneys at Vetrano | Vetrano & Feinman LLC can help you through the process.
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Vetrano | Vetrano & Feinman LLC is a family law firm in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania that provides dedicated and experienced legal services to the Main Line community. The firm’s family lawyers are advocates of collaborative divorce and their family-centric approach attempts to enable clients’ families to remain intact for the overall good of the family.
For more information about our family attorneys or Vetrano | Vetrano & Feinman, please visit www.vetranolaw.com or call 610-265-4441.
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