What’s in a name? Changing your child’s surname after separation or divorce
Your child’s name can be changed where you have the consent of the other parent and the change of name is in the child’s best interests.
Change of name without other parent’s consent
In Chapman and Palmer, the Full Court of the Family Court held that a court will not prevent a parent from changing their child’s surname unless it is satisfied that the change occurred without the consent of the other parent and the change does not promote the child’s welfare. These days, the idea of promoting the child’s welfare is expressed in terms of what’s in the child’s “best interests”.
Chapman and Palmer involved an appeal by the father of two children. The parties were separated, a divorce had been granted and the parties had joint custody of the children. Both the mother and the father had remarried. The mother then enrolled the children at school with the surname of her new husband, without the consent of the children’s father.
Relevant factors in considering whether a change of name is in the child’s best interests
The court outlined several factors in Chapman and Palmer that it will take into account in relation to whether it will prevent a parent from changing a child’s name. These factors include:
- the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration,
- the short and long term effects of the change of surname
- any embarrassment to the child from having a different surname to the surname of the parent with whom they live
- any confusion of identity which may arise for the child
- the impact of the name change on the relationship between the child and the parent whose name the child previously bore
- the effect of frequent or random changes of name
In most instances, you will not be able to legally change your child’s surname unless you have the signed agreement of the other parent or have obtained a court order permitting you to do so. This is the case even if you have sole parental responsibility.
To change a child’s name, you will need to do so through the Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages. Most state registries will not permit you to change the name without the other parent’s signed consent or an order of the court.
To obtain an order to change a child’s name, you will need to demonstrate that the change is in your child’s best interests.