How Can I Change My Kids' Last Name When They Have My Maiden Name?
Kids' Name Change Basics
A name change for a child is a simple and relatively straightforward legal matter. Mothers who initially give their child their maiden name may decide to give the child the father's name or her new married name. In other cases, the mother may choose to adopt a new family name altogether, so the family can have a consistent identity. Since this is common, the process is typically simple and quick. However, in most circumstances, you must obtain permission from the court to change your kids' last name. Although the laws for name changes vary by states, in most locations, you will need to have the written consent of the children's legal father before you may give them a last name, even if it is is his own. If the kids' father's whereabouts are unknown, you must make an effort to locate him and present evidence of your efforts to the court. Some courts may also require you to publish notice of the name change in a local newspaper.
Taking Step-Father's Name and Step-Parent Adoptions
If you are remarrying and your new spouse is adopting your kids, you can request a name change when you complete a stepparent adoption. However, this will require the child's natural father to sign away all legal rights to his children. If the biological father will not consent to an adoption, he may agree to a name change, however. For example, if he wants to retain his rights but you would like a consistent family name, you could file a special, non-adoption petition with the court asking the court to change the child's name for family consistency if the father approves. Generally, this would allow for a name-change without compromising the biological father's rights.
If the kids' biological father is deceased, you will simply need to provide the court with a copy of his death certificate at the time of the name change. Generally, this happens in the context of a step-parent adoption, but the court may allow your kids to take your new husband's name without giving him any legal rights if you have concerns about having a family with several different last names.
Taking Biological Father's Name
In some cases, mothers chose to give their child their maiden name at the time of the kids' birth if they are not with the father or if they are unsure of the father's identity. If the father chooses to become an active part of the child's life and both parents agree to give the kids his last name, then you may need to provide the court the results of a paternity test before they will approve the name change. In such cases where both biological parents consent and the child is taking his or her natural father's name, you may not even need to attend a court hearing.
Giving a Child an Entirely New Name
Some mothers choose to give their child an entirely new last name for reasons other than marriage or romantic relationships. For example, if woman learns her own father's identity as an adult and changes her own last name to honor her heritage, the court will likely approve the children's name change, but this, too, will usually involve getting the consent of the child's legal father.
In general, parents have the right to make any changes to names for any reasons other than illegal or fraudulent purposes, although courts generally regard stability and consistency as positive traits for a child's life. Thus, the court would likely be reluctant to approve multiple name changes over a short period of time, especially if they are for aesthetic purposes.
Moreover, a mother cannot change her kids' names to keep their biological father from finding them. Even if cases of domestic abuse, the court will typically take other measures short of name changes to protect the family, although this may be an option in extreme cases of physical risk.
When making a case to the court, you will simply need to provide the reason why you are choosing the name change, even if it is just because you like the sound of a new last name, and attest that you are not doing so for any illegal reasons or to evade obligations. If you go through with the name change and the court finds out that you have not disclosed the real reasons behind the name change, you may face serious criminal penalties, as this can constitute perjury--a felony that can lead to significant jail time.
Petitioning the Court
Many jurisdictions have a specific name-change petition format that is required for all cases. You can obtain a copy at the office of the court clerk. Generally, the petition is simple: You will need to provide your full name, date of birth, as well as the full names and dates of birth of your children. You may be asked to provide evidence to back this up, such as a birth certificate. You will also need to provide information on the child's legal father, including his last known place of residence.
Both you and the child's biological father will need to sign the petition or a supplementary consent. Usually, you will need to sign this document in front of a notary public, who will need to see photo identification, such as a driver's license, to verify your identity.
If you do not know the father's current whereabouts, state this in the petition. In these cases, the court will typically ask you to search for him and document such searches. For example, the court may want you to send a letter to his last known address; contact his last known employer; or attempt to contact his relatives and friends. If you still cannot locate him, the court may allow you to publish a notice of intent to change the child's name in a newspaper or other public forum in the last known place where the father was known to reside. This notice will give him information on how to object or consent to the name change. If he does not respond to any requests for consent, the court will likely proceed with your name change without him.
The court may ask for the child's consent to the name change if she is a teenager or older child who understands the implications of a name change. In these cases, the child may need to come to court and talk to the judge--often privately, in her chambers--to make sure she understands what a name change will mean for her. This is often a crucial part of the name-change process if it is part of a step-parent adoption.
Finalize the Name Change
After you finalize the name change, you will receive an official court order signed by the judge listing the child's new name. You can use this to request a new birth certificate through the state vital records office. Generally, the state will not automatically issue a new birth certificate. You will need the new birth certificate, and possibly the court order, to request a new Social Security card, passport, and state ID bearing the child's new last name. You can use these documents to update your children's school and medical records.