Texas Court Denies Mother’s Request to Change Children’s Surname

A parent may want to change a child’s name for a number of reasons.  Texas family law allows a court to order the change of a child’s name if doing so is in the child’s best interest.  Tex. Fam. Code § 45.004(a).  Generally, courts should only order a child’s name change if it is needed for the child’s “substantial welfare.”  A mother recently appealed a court’s denial of her petition to change her children’s names from their father’s surname to her maiden name.

The parents divorced in 2011.  After allegations the father had abused the son in 2015, the mother had sole possession of both of the minor children. The mother petitioned in 2019 to change the children’s last name to her maiden name.  The children agreed to the change, but the father opposed it.  He argued they had his name since they were born and that they could change their names on their own when they are adults.

The mother testified she wanted to change the children’s names because she had grown up with her maiden name.  She said the children wanted to identify with her family’s name “to feel the closeness of [that] family.”  They had been using her name and wanted to legally change their names.  She testified that her maiden name is well respected in the area and having that name would be important when the children became involved with the family businesses.

The mother testified people “were more likely to” “honor” and “respect” them if they had her family’s name. She also testified the children “don’t feel a relationship with their father.” She said the children had not been “raised around” the father’s family.  She did acknowledge their father was “very important to them” and agreed they could be involved with the family businesses even if they did not change their names.

The children’s sister testified that she thought the mother’s maiden name would be better for the children because she had seen them ask to change their name.  She had seen her brother write that name on his notebook and homework.

The daughter, who was 17 at the time of hearing, said she wanted to change her name and would do so when she turned 18 if the court denied it now.  She testified she thought the name change would help her feel “closer to [the] family” and honor her grandfather.  She testified she did not want to use her father’s name and had not seen him in years.

The son was only 11 at the time of the hearing, so the mother’s attorney only asked a few questions and the father’s attorney did not ask any.  When asked what he wanted his name to be, the son stated the mother’s maiden name.

The father testified he had the children at least two days each week from 2011 to 2015. He denied ever abusing the children.  He testified that he loves the children and wants to become more involved with them soon.  He said the children could change their names when they turn 18 if they want to, so there was no need to change them now.

The judge acknowledged being familiar with the mother’s maiden name and the family’s role in the community.  The court pointed out that name changes “should only be granted reluctantly…” when “substantial welfare requires it.”  The court also stated that their father is their father, and that should “not be taken lightly.” The court noted the children could change their names when they reach adulthood.

The appeals court found the court had considered relevant legal principles.

The mother argued that a previous order giving her the “exclusive right . . . to represent the children in legal actions and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance” required the court to grant her petition.  The appeals court found, however, that the court had been bound by the Texas Family Code and case law, which allowed a name change only if the child’s substantial welfare required it.  The court considered the relevant law and did not find a substantial aspect of the children’s welfare required a name change.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the court’s order.

A variety of legal issues can arise regarding children, even long after a divorce.  A skilled Texas family law attorney can fight to protect your children and your rights.  If you are facing legal issues involving your children, call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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