Changing your child’s surname: Children’s surnames can be a very contentious issue between separated parents and in fact sometimes you’ll see all other aspects of a parenting matter being resolved, but this one sticking point remain: what the child’s surname should be. Intricately connected to questions of identity and relationships, it’s no surprise that splitting parents sometimes disagree on children’s surnames. Some parents suspect a party wants to include a surname as some kind of symbolic “ownership” or to signify “branding” of a child. Others don’t want to have to go through life confronted by their ex’s name daily. Parents may well have their own reasons for wanting their child to have a certain name. But when it comes down to a decision by a family court judge, the only thing that matters is what’s in the best interests of the child.
A recent case, pseudonymised as Tinley & Colton, concerned a father who had unsuccessfully applied to change a child’s name to being hyphenated to include his surname as well as the mother’s. His application was rejected on the basis that a surname change would only add a layer of stress to a girl who was focusing on cancer recovery and who currently had a difficult relationship with her father.
What does a court consider when it comes to parents applying to change a child’s surname? Let’s have a quick look at the issues.
As with every case in family law, everything depends on the matter’s unique circumstances. But the courts are always tasked with ensuring the best interests of the child are met above all.
Some of the things the courts are obliged to consider under the Family Law Act are any short or long term effects of a change of the child’s name, if a change of name will cause any confusion of identity, if it will cause any embarrassment to the child if their name is different to the person they live with, whether a change of name might affect the relationship between the child and the person whose name they previously had, and whether the name is being changed frequently or randomly.
Further considerations that courts have shown they will take into account are aspects of the time sharing arrangement, how much the child identifies with the parent agitating for a name change, how much the child identifies with each party, and the motivations as to why the parent seeks a name change.
In this case, the Judge found that it was a high conflict parenting case involving emotional abuse towards the mother and a child with a “strained and distressing” relationship with her father. The parents eventually agreed on custody arrangements, which included for the girl to have supervised contact with her father as a period of “recognition contact”.
The father argued that having a hyphenated surname would help the girl know the identities of both parents and that would help “provide a framework for identity recognition”: “There will be no confusion because both family names will be there, half mum and half dad.”
He argued that “the long-term advantages of a name change will outweigh any disadvantages that the child feels now and any distress she has”. He said it wouldn’t embarrass her and in fact one of her friends had a hyphenated name too.
But the family consultant gave evidence that the child and the mother needed a break from the conflict with the father and requiring a name change would be confusing and conflicting at this point.
As such, for the time being it’s not in the girl’s best interests to have her name changed. She can just live her life free of the adult dramas now, rather than being required to change her name which would be a “new impost to be placed upon her in circumstances where she is having a ‘rest period’”.
The father is able to renew his application further down the track, if the relationship becomes more meaningful.
You can read this judgment here.
For family law advice, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.