Originally published by Robert Epstein.
Under Texas family law, a court may order a child’s name be changed if doing so is in the child’s best interest. Neither parent is specifically granted the right to name the child under Texas law, but generally a child’s name will not be changed unless the party seeking the change shows a good reason for it. In a recent case, a mother challenged a court’s order to change the child’s name to include the father’s last name.
The parties appeared to have a good co-parenting relationship. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the child lived with the mother, but the father had always been a part of his life and assisted financially with his living expenses. The father’s family was also significantly involved in the child’s life, helping the mother financially and with child care.
The mother had been adopted as a young child. She grew up in Virginia and moved to Texas when she was 18. She did not have any family other than her son in Texas. Due to the distance, the child did not have the same amount of interaction with his mother’s family that he had with his father’s family.
The mother testified her surname was her adoptive family’s name. She also testified it was important for her son to have her surname because he was the only biological relative she knew. She also said it could help him be connected to “different pieces of himself and his history.” She did not believe having her surname instead of his father’s would have a negative effect on the child.
The father testified he thought a name change would help avoid confusion at places like doctor’s offices. He also hoped the child would play sports and wanted the child to use the father’s name.
Both parents agreed the child was too young to know his name. Each also said they would not change their surnames.
The father testified the mother did not give him a choice regarding the child’s name. He also indicated he believed he did not have a choice with regard to signing the acknowledgement of paternity. He testified he thought the child would have trouble when he got older if he did not have his father’s last name. He said he did not know any children who did not use their father’s last name, though the children he knew had parents who were married to each other.
The father’s father testified to what he and his wife had done for the child and his mother. He also testified that he was very close to the child. He testified that they did things for the child and his mother because they loved them both.
The trial court found it was in the child’s best interest to change his name to include his father’s last name. The mother appealed, arguing the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the finding.
In considering whether a name change would be in a child’s best interest, the court considers various nonexclusive factors, including whether it would avoid embarrassment, inconvenience, or confusion for the custodial parent or child, whether the present or potential changed name would be more convenient, how long the current name has been used, how the change affects the child’s bond with the parent or other family members, and whether the parent is trying to alienate the other parent by seeking the change. Courts do not have to weight each factor equally.
The appeals court found there was little or no evidence that changing the child’s name would have a negative effect on the mother or child. The appeals court found there was legally and factually sufficient evidence to support a finding the change would be in the child’s best interest. The child was only 14 months old and therefore did not have meaningful attachment to his mother’s name. He had not started school or been involved in extracurricular activities under his mother’s name. The child was on the father’s health insurance, so the court found it could be beneficial for medical appointments and billing for the child to have his father’s name.
The appeals court acknowledged the mother was the primary caretaker, but also noted the father and his family were an important part of the child’s life. The mother’s family was less involved in the child’s daily life due to distance. The appeals court found the father’s last name would better help identify the child with a family unit. The mother and her family were not from the area and did not have the type of ties to the local community that the father’s family had. The appeals court found having the father’s name would strengthen the child’s relationship with the community.
Finally, the appeals court found the father was not seeking the change to alienate the mother from the child. There was evidence that the father and his family cared for the mother and expected to continue doing so.
The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s finding that changing the child’s name to include his father’s surname was in the child’s best interest. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
Sometimes unusual disputes arise in matters relating to children, even if both parents care for each other and want to work together. If you are facing a dispute involving child custody or other matters relating to your children, an experienced Texas family law attorney can help. Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.