When Will Courts Rule a Name Change is in the Best Interests of the Child?

Changing your name in New York or Long Island isn’t always a complicated process. If you are a legal adult, then you have the right to change your name without a court order, provided that the legal name is not misleading. In other words if it will not perpetuate a fraudulent activity, or interfere with someone else’s rights it is usually approved. Adults in Long Island and New York also have the option to change their child’s name – however, in this case, the circumstances are slightly different. When an adult attempts to change a child’s name, then the courts need to consider a number of things, including whether or not the name change will be in the best interests of the child.

In any family law case that concerns a child in New York or Long Island, the courts will always use the best interests standards as the basis for their decisions. This basically means that the courts will attempt to make a decision that will not harm the child’s physical or mental status in any way. For instance, in a case I advised a client on, a mother requested for the Nassau County Supreme Court to change the surname of her child to include her name. In this case, the mother and father were not married but were once engaged. As such, she originally was not concerned about giving the child just the father’s last name as she intended to take on the same last name when they got married. However, the romantic relationship fell apart and the couple never got married. Therefore the child and the mother had different last names. The mother was the residential custodial parent. The mother felt that because the child was under her primary care, his name should reflect both the names of the father and the mother.

The father in the case above said that the petitioner only wanted to change the name to alienate the child from him. The respondent felt that the mother’s reason to seek a name change was based on a need for control. However, the court found that the proposed name change to a hyphenated surname was in the best interests of the child because it meant that the child could share the same last name as both his father and his custodial parent. The petitioner (mother) was therefore given permission to change her child’s name.

What Happens When a Parent Tries to Change a Child’s Name?

In a case where the mother and father of a child are no longer together, and one parent attempts to change the name of the child, the courts will usually require for notice of the petition for a name change to be sent to the other parent. This allows the other parent to argue against the petition if they believe that that is necessary. However, the courts may choose not to issue this notice to the other parent if that person is deceased or cannot be find in New York. In some cases, the petitioner’s name change lawyer may ask for notice not to be given if they are afraid for their safety, or the safety of their child.

If a parent attempts to file for a name change and asks for the notice of the petition not to be given to the other parent, then that parent will need to be able to provide evidence for why the notice should not be shared with the other parent. For instance, in one case, a mother filed a petition for a court order that would allow her to change the name of both herself and her children. She asked the court not to require notice of the petition to the biological father of her daughter and asked to be exempt from publishing notice of her name change in a newspaper. To support her request, the mother provided evidence to show that she was abused by the biological father of her daughter over the course of two years. She also showed that the father had threatened to kill her in the past, leading the family court to issue a protection order.

The court in the case above granted the mother’s petition for the right to change both her name and the name of her children without giving notice of the name change to the father or publishing the information in a newspaper. When determining both whether to allow for a name change, and whether that name change should follow the standard guidelines for a New York and Long Island petition, the courts need to consider the safety and circumstances of both the petitioner, and the children. The Civil Rights Law in New York authorizes the courts to waive the need to publish the petition for a name change in a newspaper if doing so would jeopardize the safety of the person who is having their name changed.

Changing the Name of a Child in New York

While there are guidelines in place that indicate how the petition for a name change should take place for a child, those guidelines are subject to change. The courts can adapt the process that is approved for a name change petition if they believe that doing so is in the best interests of the child. In some cases, the courts may even decide that it’s in the best interests of the child to wait until he or she can make the decision to change their name on their own when they’re older. In the future I will blog about examples and times when name changes for a child might be denied.

If you would like to learn more about family law and name changes in New York and Long Island, Contact the law and mediation office of me, Mr. Darren Shapiro today. You can contact me at (516) 333-6555.

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