There are a number of reasons a parent might want to change a child's name, and in most cases, the judicial system takes into consideration the wishes of both parents when deciding whether to allow a surname change for a minor child. In cases where the parents disagree about changing a child's last name, the court must weigh the mother's rights and the father's rights.
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To change the name of a minor child—usually considered a child younger than 18 years of age—both the mother and father must consent to the name change. In most cases, both parents must sign consent forms as part of the name-change petition. If the parents are not in contact, the parent initiating the name change must have the other parent served with legal papers indicating her intent to change the child's name and publish her intent to change the child's name in local media.
If the father and mother agree to the name change, the court will usually hold a hearing to confirm that the child wants his name changed, and the name change will be approved. However, if either parent objects to the name change, the court will try the case to determine whether the name change is in the child's best interest. Both parents will get to give their side of the story, and the judge will usually ask the child for his opinion as well. In cases where the parents disagree, the judge will take into account numerous factors, including the child's involvement with each parent and the circumstances contributing to the child's name change.
When both parents agree on the child's name change, the process of changing a name can take just a few weeks or months. If the case has to be tried, however, it can take several months or longer, depending on how it is scheduled on the court calendar. If the decision is appealed, it can take even longer.
Minor name changes are under the judicial umbrella of the individual states. Because of this, the requirements for changing a child's last name vary slightly from state to state. For this reason, you may find that the requirements for fulfilling your parental rights may be slightly different in different states. Check with your local Circuit Court clerk to find out exactly how your rights will play out in a particular state.
Changing a child's last name does not terminate parental responsibilities, including child-support responsibilities. In order to terminate parental responsibilities, a parent must legally petition the court to sever all parental rights and duties.