There are many reasons why a parent might want to change their child’s surname, including due to parental separation, divorce or re-marriage. In every case, a child’s surname is an integral part of who they are and seeking to change their surname can be a very emotive issue.
The first consideration is: do all those with Parental Responsibility (PR) agree to the change? PR means the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities a parent has for a child. The decision to change a child’s surname can only be made by those with PR for the child. Changing a child’s surname by agreement may involve a careful and often difficult conversation between separated parents. If all those with PR do agree then changing the child’s surname can be done by Deed Poll. You’ll need a change of name deed to be witnessed by two witnesses, an affidavit of best interest, a statutory declaration and a notice placed in the London Gazette. This can be a relatively straightforward and inexpensive process.
If parents do not agree, or where one parent is absent, then you will have to apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order. If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place you will need permission from the court before applying. In considering whether to make the order, the court’s paramount consideration will always be the child’s welfare, having regard to the factors set out in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989, ‘the Welfare Checklist’. The courts take applications to change a child’s surname very seriously and below are some of the factors they may consider.
The court will consider the registered surname of the child and the reasons for the registration, for example being recognition of the father’s biological link with the child. Evidence is required that the change of surname would improve the child’s welfare. Reasons given for seeking to change the child’s surname based on the fact that it is not the same as the person making the application do not generally carry much weight. However, any change of circumstances may be relevant. In cases where the parents were married to each other at the time of naming their child, there would have to be strong reasons to change from the registered surname, for example where there had been a history of domestic violence and it was important to the child’s (and their parent’s) security and protection. Where the parents were not married to each other, the degree of commitment of the other parent, the quality of contact they have enjoyed and the existence or absence of PR are all important factors that the court will take into account.
In all cases where an application has been made to the Family Court, the person applying will have to have had a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with a mediator, and the court will appoint an officer of the Children & Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to report on the matter.
For specialist advice on changing a child’s surname, or for help on any other aspects of Family Law, please contact our Family Law team.
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