Texas Appeals Court Affirms Order Changing Child’s Surname to Match His Father’s

iStock-1147846829Sometimes parents disagree about whose surname a child should have.  Texas family law allows a court to order a name change for a child if the change is in the child’s best interest.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 45.004.  Additionally, when a court adjudicates parentage, it may order a name change if a parent requests it and “for good cause shown.”  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 160.636.  Some appeals courts have held that those are two distinct tests, while others have held that the child’s best interest is necessarily good cause and simply determine if the change would be in the child’s best interest even when the name change is requested pursuant to § 160.636.

A mother recently appealed a court order changing her son’s surname to that of his father.

Mother and Father Separate Before Child’s Birth

The parents broke up soon after they learned of the pregnancy.  The father petitioned for adjudication of parentage four months after the birth.  He also asked the court to address custody and child support and to change the child’s last name.  The parties ultimately agreed on everything except the name change.

The father testified he had not been “fully allowed” to be involved with the pregnancy after the break-up.  He said he went to the hospital immediately when he learned of the birth.  He said he tried to have visitation and to help with the child, but his efforts seemed “futile.”

He testified the child was his only child and he wanted him to have his surname.  He said it was important in his own upbringing from his father that he had his father’s surname and he wanted that for his son.  He thought a hyphenated last name would cause complications when the child was older.

The mother testified that changing the child’s name was not in his best interest.  She agreed, reluctantly according to the appeals court, to hyphenating the child’s name. She testified the father left her soon after she told him about the pregnancy.  She said there were long periods with no communication from the father, even though she tried to include him.  She testified she told him he could be listed on the birth certificate, but he was not at the hospital to do the paperwork when the child was born.  She testified she was concerned she would have to provide additional proof that the child was hers at the doctor’s office and other places if his name changed.  She testified she wanted the child to have her name “as a part of him” and that it was “outdated” for the child to have his father’s last name.

Trial Court Grants Father’s Name-Change Request

Despite the mother’s testimony, the trial court granted the father’s request, finding the name change was in the child’s best interest, given his young age, the parents’ involvement in his life, and his current and future needs.

The mother appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion.  She argued there was legally and factually insufficient evidence to support good cause for a name change and show that the name change was in the child’s best interest.

The appeals court found the father asserted there was good cause to change the child’s name in his petition to adjudicate parentage, so § 160.636 applied.  The trial court, however, had analyzed the issue as a best interest analysis under § 45.004.  Neither party requested a finding of good cause.  The appeals court therefore considered whether the trial court abused its discretion in determining the name change was in the child’s best interest.  If it found sufficient evidence supported the trial court’s finding, the appeals court would presume a finding of good cause.

There are several factors in the analysis of whether a name change is in the child’s best interest, including how long he has used and how he identifies with his current name, the child’s age and preferences, whether the change would affect the child’s bond with his parents, how the change would affect the child’s bond and identity with his family, whether the request was intended to alienate the child from the other parent, whether the change would avoid inconvenience, confusion or embarrassment for the child or parent, how the change would affect the child in the community, whether the change would be easier or more convenient for the custodial parent, and when the change was requested.

The appeals court noted the trial court gave significant weight to the child’s age, the parents’ involvement in his life, and his future and current needs.

Appellate Court Finds Sufficient Evidence

The child was just 14 months old at the time of the hearing, so there was no evidence the child identified with his name or preferred one name over the other. The father requested the change when the child was four months old. It would be reasonable for the trial court to find there had been no delay in the request, that the child had not used his current name for a long period of time, and that he had not grown accustomed to his current name and would not be confused by a change.

There was conflicting evidence about the reasons the father had limited involvement in the pregnancy and had missed the birth.  His petition reflected an intent to be involved in the child’s life.  The trial court could have reasonably found that the name change would strengthen the bond between the child and the parent with whom he was not living. The court further could have found this positive effect outweighed the potential inconvenience to the mother.

The appeals court found legally and factually sufficient evidence to support the finding the name change was in the child’s best interest.  The appeals court therefore found no abuse of discretion in the order and affirmed it.

Call McClure Law Group Today

Issues such as a child’s name change may be more difficult to resolve than custody and visitation.  If you are involved with a dispute with your child’s other parent, a skilled Texas family law attorney can help.  Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to talk about your case.

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