Q&A: Changing a child's surname

Q. I am getting married and my child wants to have my new surname, can I change his name?

A. Legally, you may not change your child’s name unless you have the permission of every person who has Parental Responsibility for the child. 

A Mother automatically has Parental Responsibility for a child.  A Father has Parental Responsibility for a child if he is married to the Mother (either before the birth or after it) or if the child’s birth was registered after the 1st December 2003 and he was named as Father on the Birth Certificate.  The Father can also acquire Parental Responsibility by entering into a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement with the Mother, or by an Order of the Court.

If the Father does not have Parental Responsibility then you may legally change your child’s surname to your new surname (or any other name for that matter) without the Father’s permission.  However beware that even a Father without Parental Responsibility can bring an application to the Court for you to change the name back and such applications have been known to succeed.  It would therefore be prudent to consult with the child’s Father even if he does not have Parental Responsibility.

If the Father does have Parental Responsibility then you must obtain his permission before changing the name.  If the Father will not give his permission then you will need to make an application to the Court for a Specific Issue Order. 

When the Court considers your application the child’s ‘ascertainable wishes and feelings in light of their age and understanding’ will be one of the factors considered by the Court.  Therefore if your child is clearly expressing a desire to change his or her name, the Court will attach an appropriate amount of weight to their wish depending on their age and understanding.  This aspect will be considered alongside a number of other factors including ‘the likely effect of any change in circumstances on the child’. 

The issue of the child’s identity is a key consideration in the Court reaching a decision and whilst you may want him to share a surname with your new family, it is important that you consider the significance of your child identifying with his Father and the rest of his Paternal Family.  Therefore it may be sensible to consider a double-barrelled surname incorporating your new surname and the child’s Father’s surname.  This is likely to be much more palatable not only to the child’s Father but also to the Court.

Chris Brown, solicitor

 

*Previously printed in the Stamford Mercury and Peterborough Telegraph