Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Child’s Best Interest is the Primary Factor to Consider in Name Change Petition

In the family law, child name change litigation case of In Re Change of Name of D.L.R., PICS Case No. 15-0392 (C.P. Lycoming, Feb. 20, 2015) the Honorable Richard A. Gray ruled that both the factors in the In re Grimes and the importance of best ensuring that the child would bear the surname of at least one parent established that changing his surname to that of his father was in his best interests. Father’s petition for name change was granted.

Father J.D.S. filed petition to change the name of his infant son D.L.R. pursuant to 54 Pa.C.S. 702. Mother opposed the petition. While both parties agreed to change his name to include both their surnames, they disagreed about whether he would bear the paternal or maternal surname as his surname.

The parties stipulated that if called, the father would testify that he wanted his son to carry his last name, S., for several reasons. It would adhere to the traditional view of the child taking the paternal surname. Since the child was a boy, the surname would be carried on to his children. Father had no input into the birth name. Finally, if the mother remarried, she would likely take a new last name, leaving the child with a surname that belonged to neither of his parents.

The parties also stipulated that mother would testify that she believed father had agreed to allow the child to bear her surname, R., as his own. The birth certificate and the acknowledgement of paternity, both of which father had signed, provided that the child’s last name was R. She had no current intention of marrying. She believed that father’s last name was associated with criminal activities, including a criminal history in father’s family, and with an eviction.

In rebuttal, father indicated he would testify the he never agreed to R. as the child’s last name and that he did not voice his objections to the name because he felt that the time of birth was not the right time to do so. He disputed the criminal background.

The court said that when considering a petition to change a child’s name, a court must exercise discretion to determine whether the petitioner established that the name change was in the child’s best interests. In re Grimes announced three factors to consider when determining if the change was in the child’s best interest: the natural bonds between parent and child; the social stigma or respect afforded a particular name in the community; and, if of sufficient age, whether the child intellectually and rationally understood the significance of changing his name. Applying those factors, the court concluded that it was in the child’s best interests for his name to D.L.R.S.

The court explained that the child had a natural bond with both parents, who shared custody and who had been since birth, and intended to continue to be, involved with him. It found that neither surname was afforded any significant social stigma or respect in the community. It said there was no evidence that the alleged criminal history or eviction had tied the name to loss of respect in the community. Moreover, S. appeared to be a common surname.

Lastly, the court observed that the child could not intelligently understand the significance of the name change.

The court noted that when considering a child’s best interests with respect to a name change, some courts had looked to whether he would bear the same name as a parent. It adopted their reasoning, finding that it was not in the child’s best interests to have a surname of neither of his biological parents, which would occur if mother remarried and assumed the name of her spouse. Thus, the court found that father had met his burden of proving that the child’s best interest was for his name to be changed to best ensure that he would at all times bear the surname of at least one parent.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 38 PLW 256 (March 17, 2015)

Filed Under: Family Law; Child Name Change; Social Stigma

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