Do you want to change your child’s last name? Have you ever wondered how a Court will determine whether your child’s surname should be changed if the other parent opposes your request?
It is well established that “‘the best interests of the child’ is the applicable standard governing most decisions affecting the welfare of children” such that same “is also the one we apply in determining the appropriate surname to be given to a child.” Gubernat v. Deremer, 140 N.J. 120, 139 (1995). In adjudicating an application to modify a child’s name, the Court is to consider factors including: “the length of time that the child has used one surname; (2) the identification of the child as a member or part of a family unit; (3) the potential anxiety, embarrassment, or discomfort the child might experience…; and (4) any preference the child might express if sufficiently mature.”
Moreover, in Emma v. Evans, 215 N.J. 197 (2013), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the party seeking to change the status quo from the surname jointly given to a child at birth must bear the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the change in the child’s surname is in the child’s best interests. Therein, the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized that a name originally given to a child carries great personal significance and that “a name change is a significant event for a child, even for very young children.” Id. at 214. The Supreme Court further noted that “a child is placed through his or her name within the social web of family and community. A child’s identity, which attaches through his or her name, then attributes to him or her important social information – kinship, ethnicity, religion and race.” Id. Further, the Supreme Court stated that “under any approach to re-naming a child, the importance to a child of his or her name cannot be understated.” A Court will only change a child’s name if it is in the child’s best interests to do so.