Changing a Child’s Last Name

Plenty of parents argue over what first name to give their child. But sometimes parents may also disagree over what a child’s last name should be, such as when the parents are unmarried and have different surnames. Changing a child’s last name can be a big process depending on your circumstances, but if you have a valid reason to do it, it is very doable. In this blog post, we will discuss valid reasons for a child name change, as well as how to change a child’s last name.

Can I Change My Child’s Last Name?

Whose last name is given to a child on his or her birth certificate if the parents are not married? According to ORC 3705.09(F)(2), if the mother was not married at the time of the child’s conception or birth or in between the two, the last name given the child on the birth certificate is the one designated by the mother. That may be her last name, the father’s last name, a hyphenated combination, or a different last name altogether. The decision is in the mother’s hands. But what if the father objects, or the mother later changes her mind?

If you are a parent, the good news is that you may go through the process of changing a child’s last name for almost any reason so long as you do not intend to commit fraud. A frequent reason parents want to change a child’s name is to strengthen the bond between the child and the parent whose name he or she is taking.

As with most actions regarding children, the process of changing a child’s name is easier if both parents agree. If the parents don’t agree, Ohio courts will resolve the dispute using the standard they use for almost all disputes regarding children: what is in the best interest of the child.

Changing a Child’s Last Name: The Best Interest Standard

Much of the guidance we have around child name changes comes from Ohio case law, particularly the case of Bobo v. Jewell, 38 Ohio St. 3d 330 (1998). In that case, the parents were not married, and Christopher, the child, was given his mother’s last name, Jewell, per then-current Ohio law. The juvenile court changed Christopher’s last name to Bobo at Timothy Bobo’s request when it established paternity.

Christina Jewell appealed the name change. The Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the order changing Christopher’s last name, saying that there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s judgment. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ ruling on the name change, finding that the trial court has the authority to change a child’s last name, but that the change must be in the child’s best interest.

The Supreme Court went on to caution courts to “refrain from defining the best-interest-of-the-child test as purporting to give primary or greater weight to the father’s interest in having the child bear the paternal surname.” The court acknowledged that while it is customary to name a child after the father, the mother has at least an equal interest in the child having her last name.

The court then outlined “best interest” considerations when deciding to change the last name of the child of parents who had never been married:

  • How long the child has used a surname
  • How a name change would affect both the father-child relationship and the mother-child relationship
  • The identification of the child as part of a family unit
  • Any embarrassment, discomfort, or inconvenience the child may experience from having a surname different from the custodial parent’s
  • The child’s preference if the child is old enough and mature enough to express a meaningful preference
  • Any other factor relevant to the child’s best interest.

A 2016 case, Bond v. de Rinaldis,  2016-Ohio-3342 suggested that “parental failure to support a child” could also be a best interest consideration for a child name change, acknowledging that that factor might fall under the category of “the identification of the child as part of a family unit.”

How to Change Your Child’s Last Name

In order to change your child’s name in most counties in Ohio, the child must have been a resident of the state for at least a year (some counties have a lower residency requirement). Whether you are a mother or a father, it’s best to begin by getting the other parent’s agreement for the name change if at all possible. If you and the other parent agree, you can file an application for a name change along with a Consent to Change of name. These may need to be notarized depending on your county. If there are consent forms filed by both parents, the Court will decide whether a hearing is necessary. If the other parent doesn’t agree to the child’s name change, file your application for a name change in your county’s probate court. There will be a filing fee. The court will set a hearing date.

You will also need to make sure that you serve the parent who doesn’t consent to the name change with notice of the application to change name and the hearing the court schedules for the application. Send this information to the other parent by certified mail with return receipt requested so that you can prove to the court that you provided notice. (If the other parent consented to the name change, you don’t have to take this step.)

The application for a name change will also need to be published in a newspaper in your county. The court usually takes care of the publication requirement, but there is a fee for this service, typically around $50.

The next step is to attend the hearing. If your child is over six years of age, he or she may need to attend the hearing as well. You should have documented your reasons for wanting the name change in your application; you may need to testify regarding those reasons and any supporting evidence at the hearing.  If the court finds that a name change is in the child’s best interests, it will grant the request. Then you will need to contact the Ohio Department of Health’s Bureau of Vital Statistics to get an updated birth certificate with your child’s new last name. If your child wasn’t born in Ohio, you will have to get an updated birth certificate from the state where he or she was born. You should also contact other third parties that will need to have the child’s correct name, such as schools and medical providers.

If you have questions about how to change your child’s name in Ohio or need help doing so, contact Melissa Graham-Hurd & Associates to schedule a consultation.