Changing a Child's Name Following Divorce
Changing your own name after divorce is a very personal choice. You may have a strong desire to lose your married name; however, changing the name of your children is a different matter altogether.
There may be some generalisation here, but the following is a very common scenario following divorce:
1. The divorced woman reverts to her maiden name.
2. Her children, of whom she is the primary carer, still bear the surname of her former husband.
3. She wants to avoid confusion for her children, so wishes to change their name to the same as hers.
4. The father of the children wants the children's names to remain unchanged.
Of course, some fathers may not object to their children taking another name, but this is often not the case in our experience.
Naming a child at birth
When a child is born to married parents, the name is registered on the birth certificate by one or both parents. Usually, the surname registered will be the name the whole family is known by and, in many instances, this will be the father's surname or a double-barrelled amalgamation of both parents' names. However, the parents can choose the surname for their child as long as everyone who has parental responsibility agrees.
Changing a child's name after divorce
To change the name of a child under the age of 16, the consent of each person with parental responsibility will be required. If consent is forthcoming, an application can be made to change the name via deed poll.
Once the name has been changed officially, records and documents can also be updated. Birth certificates are usually not updated following a change of name via deed poll; this is because they are considered historical records. In terms of using the birth certificate as a proof of identification, it continues to be valid as long as it is accompanied by the deed poll certificate stating the change of name.
What happens when consent to change a child's name is not given?
If the other parent with parental responsibility (or any other party with parental responsibility) does not consent to the name change, then an application can be made to the court for a Specific Issue Order.
The court will focus solely on the welfare of the child and, as names are considered integral to our history and identity, the court will wish to see evidence that the change of name will be in the child's best interests. If the application is successful, the child's name can then be changed by deed poll.
What happens when one parent is absent?
If the other parent with parental responsibility is absent from the child's life it may be possible to change a child's name via deed poll as long as: reasonable steps have been taken to contact the absent parent, the absent parent has not contributed financially for several years, and/or their whereabouts are unknown. A court can remove the absent parent's parental responsibility via a court order and this then means a deed poll change of name application can be made by the parent with sole parental responsibility.
What are the rights for parents without parental responsibility?
In most cases, parents who were married at the time of the child's birth will both have parental responsibility, and divorce does not change this. If a parent does not have parental responsibility, they can apply to the Family Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
If a parent with sole parental responsibility changes the name of a child without seeking consent from the other parent a dispute may arise. While a parent with sole parental responsibility has the right to change the child's name by deed poll, the other parent can then apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order to seek a reversal. It is always a good idea to attempt to seek consent from the other parent if you wish to change your child's name, or at the very least to inform them of your intention.
Can I rename my child whatever I want?
In most cases where a parent seeks to change their children's names via deed poll after divorce, they choose their own name so that the members of the family living together all have the same surname. However, if you are seeking to change your child's name to something else, there are various conditions which must be upheld to ensure the name is reasonable.
Goodsells Family Law – Specialist in Child Law