Texas Appeals Court Reverses Children’s Name Change

A trial court generally cannot grant relief that was not requested by the parties in a Texas family law matter.  Relief must generally conform to the pleadings, though in some cases an issue may be tried by consent of the parties.  A mother recently challenged a trial court’s order changing the children’s name to something different from what she had requested when the father had not participated in the proceedings.

Mother Petitions for Name Change

In January 2022, the trial court adjudicated parentage and named the mother sole managing conservator of the children, who were born in 2019 and 2020.  The children’s last names were structured as “[father’s last name] [mother’s last name].” The mother then petitioned to remove the father’s last name from the children’s last names, alleging he had not been in their lives or supported them and that the change was in the children’s best interest.

The trial court held two hearings, but the father failed to answer or participate.  The mother testified that she wanted to change the children’s name to avoid inconvenience and confusion.  She said that she had extended family in the area who shared her last name and that she did not plan to change her name.  She also testified the change was in the best interest of the children and that she had not requested it to try to alienate the father.  The birth certificates showing the children’s names were admitted as evidence.

Trial Court’s Order

The trial court denied the name change and orally ruled that it would allow her to hyphenate the two last names, so that they would be structured “[father’s last name]-[mother’s last name]”. The trial court subsequently signed the order to change the children’s name to the hyphenated version and ordered the Bureau of Vital Statistics to change their names accordingly.

The trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law following the mother’s request, but allowed her motion for a new trial to be overruled by operation of law.  She appealed.

The Mother’s Appeal

The mother argued the trial court abused its discretion because there was insufficient evidence to establish hyphenation was in the best interest of the children.  The mother further argued that the requested relief before the court was removal of the father’s last name, not hyphenation.

A court’s judgment must conform to the pleadings. Tex. R. Civ. P. 301. The court only has authority to grant the relief requested by a party, generally in a live pleading, unless an issue has been tried by consent.  Pleadings must give the other party reasonable notice of the claims.

The mother’s petition specifically requested the children’s names be changed from “[father’s last name] [mother’s last name]” to “[mother’s last name].” In the hearing, she stated they could use the father’s last name as a middle name if the court did not grant her request to remove it.  Nothing in the live pleadings or the record indicated she ever asked for hyphenation, however.

The appeals court concluded that the trial court’s order did not confirm to the pleadings or requested relief.  The appeals court therefore concluded the trial court’s order was erroneous and it did not need to reach the question of whether there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s order.

The appeals court reversed the order and remanded the case to the trial court.

Seek Advice from an Experienced Texas Name Change Attorney

This case shows that surprising things can happen even in cases that seem straightforward.  If you are involved in a dispute involving your child, a skilled Dallas family law attorney can help.  Call 214.692.8200 to set up a consultation with McClure Law Group.


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