In the exercise of its “original jurisdiction” as per R. 2:10-5, the Chancery Division, Family Part, has the authority to order a change in both a child’s last name and first name.
Pursuant to Gubernat v. Deremer, 140 N.J. 120 (1995), the Supreme Court of New Jersey enumerated a list of factors that are to be considered by the trial court in making a determination upon application by a parent.
The factors include the length of time that the child has used one surname, the identification of the child as a member or part of a family unit, the potential anxiety associated with a potential name change, including embarassment or discomfort the child might experience if the child bears a surname different from the custodial parent, and any preferences the child might express, assuming the child possesses sufficient maturity to express a relevant preference. See Gubernat.
The Appellate Division affirmed this holding in the subsequent case of Staradumsky v. Romanowski, 300 N.J. Super. 618 (App. Div. 1997), wherein a father, the Defendant Stephen Romanowski, appealed from a trial court order granting the Plaintiff mother’s application to change the first, middle, and last name of a child born to the couple.
The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the name change was justified based upon the fact that the Plaintiff mother was the primary residential parent with “principal custody” of the child. The Appellate Division, however, kept the father’s preferred middle name as a means to honor the “heritage” of the father’s family.
Gubernat and Staradumsky remain the seminal cases on the issue of applications for a name change.
by Robert H. Siegel, Esq.