Children Law – Changing a Child’s Surname

A child acquires his or her name when it is registered at birth by his or her parents or another person with parental responsibility. There are an increasing number of requests by parents to change their child’s surname, most commonly due to the breakdown of the relationship and the development of a new one. There are of course no legal limits on an adult person’s ability to change his or her name but this is not the case when either parent wishes to change the name of a child.

Applying to change a child’s name

Where a residence order is in place, the consent of all those with parental responsibility is required or consent by the court. If there is no residence order in force, or if the father does not have parental responsibility for the child, it is often best practice for the resident parent to seek the non-resident’s parent’s consent and ultimately if that parent does not agree, to then seek the sanction of the court.

There are clear principles and key guidelines for the court to apply when dealing with an application to change a childs surname:

1. After registration of the child’s names, the grant of a residence order obliges any person wishing to change the surname to obtain the leave of the court or the written consent of all those who have parental responsibility.
2. In the absence of a residence order, the person wishing to change the surname from the registered name ought to obtain the relevant written consent or the leave of the court by making an application for a specific issue order.
3. On any application, the welfare of the child is paramount.
4. Among the factors to which the court should have regard is the registered surname of the child and the reasons for the registration, for instance recognition of the biological link with the child’s father.
5. The relevant considerations should include factors, which may arise in the future as well as the present situation.
6. Reasons given for changing or seeking to change a child’s name based on the fact that the child’s name is or is not the same as the parent making the application do not generally carry much weight.
7. Any change of circumstances of the child since the original registration may be relevant.
8. In the case of a child whose parents were married to each other, the fact of the marriage is important and there would have to be strong reasons to change the name from the father’s surname if the child was so registered.
9. Where the child’s parents were not married to each other, the mother has control over registration. Consequently, on an application to change the surname of the child, the degree of commitment of the father to the child, the quality of contact, if it occurs, between father and child, the existence or absence of parental responsibility are all relevant factors to take into account.

Where an application is made by a father to change the child’s name, his connection with the child and commitment to contact (if applicable) and the existence or absence of parental responsibility would all be relevant considerations.

Additionally, one of the most important considerations is the link with the paternal family. Maintaining a link with the child’s paternal family through having the same surname as the paternal family is of great importance, particularly when the father plays a role in the child’s life.

It is clear from the guidance of various case law, that a child’s surname will only be changed if it can be demonstrated that it would improve the child’s welfare. A compromise is that often children’s surnames are double barreled to reflect the identity of the maternal and paternal family.

by Erika Perrin from the King’s Lynn office