One thing that many people don’t think to address in a divorce or custody case is changing the surname of the child(ren). After-the-fact, one parent may want the child(ren) to carry their surname, if not in common with the other parent, or some hyphened version of both parent’s surnames. It is possible to change the child(ren)’s surname after the conclusion of a case under Minnesota Statute § 259.11. The problem with a name change is that one parent may contest it. If it is contested, it is up to the parent asking for the name change to show that it is in the best interests of the minor child. One of the seminal Minnesota cases on contested name changes for a minor is Application of Saxton, 309 N.W.2d 298 (Minnesota 1981). The Saxton case provided specific factors that a Court may consider in granting a name change for a minor child. Those factors are:
- The child’s preference;
- The effect of the change of the child’s surname on the preservation and the development of the child’s relationship with each parent;
- The length of time the child has borne a given name;
- The degree of community respect associated with the present and the proposed surname; and
- The difficulties, harassment or embarrassment that the child may experience from bearing the present or the proposed surname.
Understand that the above factors are not the only factors the Court will consider. There’s a variety of good reasons to change a child’s name that may fall outside the above factors. The Court is going to consider the specific requested name change and the reasons for the change. The reasons must conform to the child’s best interests. Things to think about are:
- How drastic is the name change (e.g., asking to hyphenate two names or getting rid of one parent’s surname altogether)?
- How strong is your reasoning when compared to how drastic of a name change you are seeking?
- Why is the other parent opposing it?
A name change for a minor child is decided on a case by case basis. It may be helpful for you to outline your reasons for the name change. Collect your thoughts. While a name change may sound like a no brainer, the Court is tasked with a very specific job and the basis for the change needs to be sound.
It is beneficial to speak with an attorney who can help guide your case and discuss probability. An attorney can give you a dose of legal reality and your chances at succeeding with a name change.