When couples get married, one spouse typically takes the last name of the other. While this trend has been becoming less and less popular in recent years, it is still a common practice. When that married couple has a child, the child assumes the couple’s last name.

Now the couple is finding that their marriage isn’t working. They decide to get a divorce. The mother decides that she no longer wants to have the father’s last name. However, she’s bothered that she and her child don’t share a surname. Why should the father get to have the same name as the child, simply because it’s a common practice in America?

Now the mother wants to know – is it possible to change a child’s last name after a divorce?

Courts Must Approve All Child Name Change Requests

A child’s name is his or her identity. Changing it could be confusing or cause unnecessary emotional distress. If a parent wants to change his or her child’s last name, they’ll have to get a court’s permission.

In California, a mother must file a formal petition with her local court and request the name change. The mother must also notify the father about the request. A court will not entertain the request until the mother can provide proof of service. Notifying the father gives him the opportunity to challenge and contest the request.

Does Child Custody Affect the Right to Change a Child’s Last Name?

Not necessarily. Child custody arrangments may or may not be relevant to a petition to change a child’s name. Just because a parent has sole physical and legal custody of a child doesn’t mean that they also have the right to unilaterally change the child’s last name. Again, a mother must ask a court’s permission to go through the process of changing a child’s last name. Just because a father doesn’t share custody doesn’t mean that his parental rights no longer exist.

What Factors Will Influence a Court’s Decision About a Child’s Name Change?

Once a mother has filed a petition to change a child’s last name, a court will consider several factors.

Relationship With the Child: A court will be hesitant to allow a mother to change a child’s last name over a father’s objection if that father has a good relationship with the child. The attempt to change the child’s name may be seen as retaliatory or harmful to that father-child relationship. However, a court may be inclined to approve the name change if the father has made no effort to be a part of the child’s life, consistently and intentionally failed to pay child support, or has been abusive.

Paternity: When couples are married, it’s always presumed that each spouse is the parent to any child born during that marriage. It can be more challenging to change a child’s last name when paternity isn’t in question. A court may be inclined to approve a name change if a child was born before parents got married or if there are legitimate questions about a father’s paternity.

Benefit to Child: A court will want to know why a mother wants to change her child’s last name. The request to change the name may only be granted if a judge feels that doing so would benefit the child in some way.

If you want to change your child’s last name after a divorce, you’ll have to go through a lengthy legal process. The process can be stressful if the child’s other parent doesn’t want to child’s name to change. Hiring an attorney with experience handling complex child custody and divorce issues can make life a lot easier. Call our Los Angeles family law attorneys to learn more about how we can help you after your divorce.