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Changing a Child's Surname

Can I change my child's surname? This question frequently arises, and the answers given by the courts are becoming ever more clear; perhaps, even, stern.

A series of cases have been before the Courts and eventually in the case of Re C (a minor) (Change of Surname) [1998] Times 2nd of February we were reminded yet again, that changing a child's surname is an important event in the child's life. The Court made it particularly clear that the Children Act principles apply, and that the Court will have to be persuaded that the change of surname is in the best interests of the child. Families often believe that having a child with a different surname leads to that child not feeling properly part of the family, and that a change of surname to be the same as that of the rest of the family, is a confirmation to the child that he or she is genuinely and securely part of what is usually a new family situation. Such a change of surname can equally be seen to indicate a rejection of the true father's identity. There is no doubt that the issue is very sensitive and distressing. Nevertheless, it will usually be a difficult burden to establish. Mothers are strongly recommended to apply to the Court before changing a child's surname.

If the father agrees, then a Court application should not be necessary, but we would recommend that the father should be asked to give his consent in writing. If the father is known to object, then a Court application is required. If the father is nowhere to be found then a more careful assessment needs to be made.

Once consent is given, the documentation itself is very simple. There are different ways of doing it, but we usually prefer a simple deed. In strict law, even this is not necessary, but such deeds are usually invaluable in dealing with various authorities such as schools. We will normally provide copies of the deed for this purpose.

Where the mother and father are unmarried, the situation is less clear cut. Any strong indication from the circumstances that the natural father has parental rights under the law should be taken as an indication of the probable need for his consent.

This note relates to the changing of surnames only. A change of a baptismal name is said, in English law, to be unlawful since a baptismal name is, in theory, given by God. See Re Parrott, Cox v Parrott [1946] Ch 183, [1946] 1 All ER 321

Another point, is that the child's birth certificate cannot in any event be altered (see Dalson v Wearmouth (1997) 1 FLR 791, CA).

Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
All information on this site is in general and summary form only. The content of any page on this site may be out of date and or incomplete, and you should not not rely directly upon it. Take direct professional legal advice which reflects your own particular situation.
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18 October 2013 135 18 October 2013