Can I change my child's surname?

When welcoming a new baby into the world, most parents are able to agree what their given name will be and so this at least is relatively straightforward when it comes to registering their birth. 

Choosing a child's surname can be less straightforward. Nowadays, family structures take all shapes and forms and often there are different family names to consider.

If parents are not married, parents have a choice to make.  It could be that they decide that their child will take the father's surname or the mother's surname, or indeed both surnames, usually as a double-barrelled surname, and sometimes with one surname appearing as a middle name.

Where parents are not married (or in a civil partnership), the mother has the legal right to register the child with a surname other than the father's. Indeed, the father must be present when the birth is registered to indicate his consent to his surname being used. 

The legal position after separation

A child will keep their surname unless their parents agree that it should be changed, or there is a court order allowing a change of name. 

The question as to whether a child's surname should change can arise after a separation.  This could be, for example, when one of the parents is going to be known by a different surname (eg remarrying or reverting to their maiden name).  It is important to note that, presuming both parents have parental responsibility, both parents will need to give their written permission for this to happen. 

If only one parent has parental responsibility, that parent can change their child's surname without the consent of the other parent (although it is still important to seek legal advice about the documentation and evidence required to do this).

However, in the event of a disagreement neither parent's wishes would determine what should happen. Rather the key consideration for the court (if challenged) is what would be in the overall best interests of the child.

Careful consideration should be given to the impact on a child's sense of identity, if a key part of their name were to be changed. 

The best interests of the child

If parents really cannot agree how this problem should be resolved, either party has the right to make an application to a court for a decision to be made.

Going to court should be treated as the very last resort and that the parents should make every attempt to come to an agreement. There are various out-of-court options to help parents to reach an agreement.

The views of the child (depending upon their age) will be extremely important. Generally speaking, once a child has reached the age of about six or seven, the court would not permit a change of name if the child appeared to be strongly opposed to a change.

Taking advice

Issues such as choosing a child's name and whether, at a later stage in their lives, their name should be changed, are delicate and unless there is agreement between then parents, should be handled with great care and tact.

If asked, the decision that the court will make will very much depend upon the family's individual circumstances. A lawyer can advise as to what the court is likely to decide in your family's case, help you to reach an agreement, and advise as to the steps that need to be taken to formalise any change that will be made.

To discuss your options in more detail, please get in touch.

This article is for general information only and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you have any questions relating to your particular circumstances, you should seek independent legal advice.