Whether you’re just a fan of the works of William Shakespeare, or are having flashbacks to high school English literature class, you may recall the famed lines,
O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
from the play Romeo and Juliet. The reality is, for many people, there’s a lot in a name, especially a last name. It represents heritage, ethnicity and familial ties, among other important things.
So, what can you do if your child’s other parent wants to change your child’s last name to reflect his last name? Actually, there are many things you can do, because the law in Florida creates some fairly specific hurdles a parent must clear in order for a judge to order a name change. One of the biggest relates to proving certain things related to the welfare of your child. Demonstrating that the other parent didn’t clear these hurdles may entitle you to an order keeping the child’s name unchanged. As always, whether you’re engaged in a name battle or some other legal dispute regarding your child, be sure you’re getting advice and representation from a skilled South Florida family law attorney.
The child of L.H. was at the center of such a name battle. L.H.’s child’s last name on the birth certificate was H., the same as the mother’s. Sometime later, the mother and M.B. appeared in court on a paternity action. Both M.B. and L.H. stipulated that M.B. was the father and that M.B. should be added to the child’s birth certificate to reflect his paternity.
The father also wanted the judge to change the child’s last name to B.-H. to reflect a shared identity with both parents. The mother opposed the request, arguing that the hyphenated last name “would be associated with the stigma of being born to an unmarried mother.” The judge sided with the father and ordered the name change. Later, however, the appeals court reversed that ruling and ordered the child’s name to remain unchanged.
That outcome may surprise some, thinking that an argument about the “stigma” of single motherhood would be highly unpersuasive in the late 2010s. After all, we’re more than a quarter-century after the Murphy Brown-Dan Quayle political kerfuffle of the early 1990s and, according to the most recently CDC statistics, nearly one-half of all 2017 births in Florida (47%) were to unmarried women.
Sometimes, though, your rationales for supporting or opposing a particular outcome in court don’t actually decide whether or not you’re entitled to the favorable outcome you seek. The mother could have opposed the name change by arguing, “Your Honor, I’ve already spent a ton on money on monogrammed clothing and accessory items for the child and a name change now would mean that all that expense would be wasted,” and she still would have been entitled to a ruling denying the name change.
A name change requires proof that it’s ‘required for the welfare of the child’
Because Florida law says there has to be a good reason to change a child’s name, and there has to be evidence that supports that stated reason. Specifically, there has to be proof presented to the trial court that supports a finding that the name change is “required for the welfare of the child,” in addition to being in the child’s best interest.
Note the exact wording that the law uses in this setting. Namely, note the use of “required.” In other words, if your child’s father is asking the judge to change your child’s last name, he has to present proof, not just that a name change might offer some potential benefits or the child’s welfare might be enhanced somewhat by a name change, but that the name change is necessary for the child’s welfare.
The court also pointed out that “conclusory assertions are insufficient.” That means that, just because the father says, “this name change is necessary for the welfare of my child,” that alone isn’t enough proof to warrant a change.
Also, just because a court has just made a finding of paternity naming a child’s legal father, that action alone isn’t sufficient to trigger a name change.
Whether you find yourself in a legal battle over where your child will live, where the child will attend school or even what his/her last name will be, make sure you have the legal resources on your side that you need. The experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to help, having many years of effectively and thoughtfully representing both mothers and fathers in a variety of paternity and other child-related issues. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.