In a divorce proceeding, it is common for a spouse to request a name change after the divorce is finalized, such as to change back to a maiden name. It is also possible to request a name change for a child in a divorce proceeding. In other words, as with property division and custody, a proposed name change for the minor child can be an issue discussed during settlement efforts or decided by the Court at trial.
If the parties are unable to agree on a name change for the child, the Court must grant the name change unless the “name change is not in the best interests of the child.” Minn. Stat. s. 259.11(a)(3)
Since the legislature did not define what best interest of the child means in the context of a name change, the Minnesota Supreme Court has identified five non-exclusive factors to determine whether a proposed name change is in a child’s best interests. In re Saxton, 309 N.W.2d 298, 301 (Minn. 1981), those factors are as follows:
- How long the child has had the current name;
- Any potential harassment or embarrassment the change might cause;
- The child’s preference;
- The effect of the change on the child’s relationship with each parent, and
- The degree of community response associated with the present and proposed names.
For example, if the minor child is less than two years old, it is likely that factor 1 would weigh in favor of a name change. If, however, the minor child has had the name for longer than six years, it is likely that factor 2 would weigh against a name change. As for factor 2, this factor might weigh in favor of granting a name change if, for example, a child is identified as having a different last name from his mother, which may lead to the child having to explain the difference to his or her peers. With respect to factor 3, similar to a custody designation, judges are often reluctant to obtain the preferences of a child, especially if the child is younger than 12 years old.
If you are going through a divorce and want to know more about a name change for a minor child, or simply want to learn more about the Minnesota divorce attorneys at Clausen & Hassan, contact our office for a free consultation about your specific situation.