There may be circumstances in which you want to change your child’s surname. You may be wondering whether this is possible to do and if so how it can be achieved. It can be difficult to change a child’s surname, please see below for a guide on considerations required to change a child’s surname.
Who has parental responsibility?
The mother of the child has automatic parental responsibility solely by giving birth to the child. Another parent automatically acquires parental responsibility if they are married or in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of the birth. A parent can acquire parental responsibility in the following ways:
- Subsequently marries the mother or enters into a civil partnership with her.
- Enters into a Parental Responsibility agreement with the mother and files it at the Central Family Court (CFC).
- Obtains a court order giving them Parental Responsibility.
- Is named in a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) as a person with whom the child is to live. When the court makes a CAO naming the person as a person with whom the child lives, it must also make a PR order.
- Is named in a CAO as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact and the court decides that it would be appropriate to make a PR order in his favour.
- Is registered on the child’s birth certificate (although there are specific requirements in relation to this).
- Becomes the child’s guardian.
- Adopts the child.
Why is parental responsibility important?
Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property. In practice, this means making decisions in relation to the child’s life, upbringing, health and well-being. This will therefore include making decisions in relation to where they grow up, religion, education, health, hobbies and interests and any other factor in a child’s life.
Everyone who has parental responsibility needs to consent to the change of surname. Consent should be provided in writing. If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place, no person may cause the child to be known by a different surname unless that person has the written consent of everyone with parental responsibility or if there is a Court Order in place. If people with parental responsibility cannot agree, an application to Court should be made. Even informal arrangements for a child to be known by a new name or via a hyphenated name require consent.
What does the Court consider when considering a change of surname application?
When deciding whether to change a child’s surname, the Court will take into account what is in the best interests of the child and consider their welfare. A change of surname was considered in the case of Dawson v Wearmouth. In this case it was held that a child’s surname should be changed only if there is some evidence that this would lead to an improvement from the point of view of the child’s welfare.
The Court may also consider the following factors:
- The registered surnameof the child (the child’s surname on their birth certificate) and the reasons for the registration, for example a recognition of the biological link with the child’s other parent.
- Factors which may arise in the future as well as the present situation.
- Reasons given for changing or seeking to change a child’s name.
- The reasons for an earlier unilateral decision to changea child’s name may be relevant.
- Any changes of circumstances of the child since the original registration may be relevant.
- Where the child’s parents were not married to each other, the mother has control over registration. Consequently the degree of commitment of the father to the child, the quality of contact, if it occurs, between father and child, the existence or absence of parental responsibility are all relevant factors to take into account.
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