My Ex Didn’t Put my Name on the Birth Certificate; Can I Change my Kid’s Name Now?

One of the big differences between divorce cases and paternity cases is this: in divorce cases you don’t change the kids’ names.

They’ve had them forever, so there’s no need to change them.

In paternity cases, though, changing the name can become a big deal, and here’s why.

It’s a pretty normal circumstance that when people aren’t married and have a kid together, the mom will name the kid after her, even if the dad is in the picture.

In other words, mom will leave dad’s name off the birth certificate and just include hers.

This usually upsets dad who wants his kid to have his name.

And, when dad files a paternity case and asks for custody and parent-time, he often also asks to change the child’s name. Sometimes he’ll ask to switch the last name to his instead of mom’s, or he’ll ask the last name be hyphenated.

How do courts think about those sorts of name-change requests, and how do they usually work out?

Let’s start with how courts think about name-change requests.

A recent Utah Court of Appeals case laid out the rule for evaluating name changes; it said:

“This court has previously held that ‘the best interests of the child is the paramount consideration in determining whether a child’s name should be changed.’

. . . .

There are six factors that are relevant for determining the best interests of the child in this regard: 1) the child’s preference in light of the child’s age and experience, 2) the effect of a name change on the development and preservation of the child’s relationship with each parent, 3) the length of time a child has used a name, 4) the difficulties, harassment or embarrassment a child may experience from bearing the present or proposed name, 5) the possibility that a different name may cause insecurity and lack of identity, and 6) the motive or interests of the custodial parent.”

Velazquez v. Chavez, 2019 Utah App 185, ¶ 10.

Each case will be different depending on the facts, but this is the way a Utah court will evaluate whether a name change is in a child’s best interest.

Now, how do name-change requests normally work out?

My experience has been that if a dad asks to completely change a kid’s last name from mom’s last name to his last name, the court will say no. It’s just too much of a change, and it excludes one parent too much.

Conversely, my experience has been that if a dad asks to hyphenate a kid’s name in order to include the dad’s last name, the court will say yes.

I’ve seen a lot of people argue against hyphenating the last name. They usually say the kid will be confused, or that the school might be confused. I’ve never seen any of these arguments be successful in court.

Pretty much, if you want to hyphenate your kid’s last name, the court will grant that request.

Likewise, if you want to exclude the other parent’s last name, the court will deny your request.

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