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I want to change my child’s name

Commonly, this is a significant worry for separating parents. 

Here, Hug Directory Member, Accredited Family Solicitor Elaine Flynn, looks at when and how this can happen. Find out more about changing your child’s name.

When a parent is served with a request to change a child’s name it can be naturally worrying and upsetting.  There are a number of reasons why a parent may request to change a child’s first name from no longer liking the chosen name, to experiencing an unpleasant event or trauma associated with the name, to a new name or “nick name” developing for the child which feels more suited. 

Changing a child’s surname is a step that will carry greater significance. 

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A surname will link a child to their family, their roots and heritage.  Sometimes a surname might be all that links the child to their maternal or paternal family.  This can be particularly important if they are an only child. 

Often a change of name request arises because the father has not been registered on the child’s birth certificate following the child’s birth, and the mother has registered the child’s name using her own surname.  The father may wish to add his name to the child’s name or change it to his.  If a mother remarries and takes her new husband’s name, she may wish for her child to adopt the same surname, this is particularly common if more children are born to the new marriage.

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In few instances, a parent may make an application to change a child’s surname to protect a child.  For example, if their other parent has committed a serious criminal offence and there is a stigma attached to the name; or there is a risk to the security of the child.

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How can it happen?

If you wish to change a child’s name you will need the agreement of the other parent.  Even if the other parent does not have parental responsibility for the child, it is advisable to reach an agreement.  Case law dictates that the Court will not look well upon someone who changes a child’s name without an agreement. 

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Early, and constructive communication is important as a child’s birth certificate can only be changed by a deed poll and where both parents agree.  The deed poll can be drafted by a solicitor and is a relatively straightforward process.

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If you wish to change your child’s name and the other parent will not agree you can make an application to the court for a Specific Issue Order for permission to change the name. 

If the other parent wishes to change the child’s name, or you find out they have already done so informally (for example at the child’s school and/or in the community) then you can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the change of name. 

What will the court consider?

The Court will consider what impact a change of name will have on the child’s welfare, and if the child is old enough their wishes and feelings will carry great significance.  The parent’s relationship with the child will be considered and why the chosen name was initially registered on the child’s birth certificate.  Cardinally, the Court must carefully weigh up what impact a change of name would have upon the child, not only now but in their future and any risk involved.  For example, if the mother is seeking to change a child’s name to a new married name, one must ask is there a risk that the mother would revert to her maiden name in the event of a future divorce.  This would leave the child without either their mother or biological father’s name.

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Significantly, a father applying for his surname to be added will result in the court looking at the relationship between the father and child, if they spend time together and, importantly, if the father does not have parental responsibility for the child the reason will be explored.

Each case is unique, and what one parent might feel is a justified request the other parent may disagree entirely.  Applications for a change of name can be emotionally charged, there will be a lot to consider and they are not always successful, so it is important that you seek out legal advice on the merits of a court application. 

Thank you to Elaine Flynn of Arthurs Solicitors for this very useful blog. If you want to know more about changing a child’s name or any other family law matter – you can find Elaine’s contact details HERE

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