Changing Children’s Surnames in New York Family Law Cases

Choosing A NameFamily law cases in New York City can involve numerous complicated and difficult issues, requiring careful planning and preparation for emotionally trying proceedings. This is probably most true for proceedings involving the custody and care of children, which can occur in connection to a divorce or between parents who were never married. New York law allows parents and legal guardians to petition to change a child’s name. The process is far from simple, especially when someone seeks a name change in connection with a family law proceeding.

No specific legal standard exists for children’s names. A child commonly takes their father’s surname, but this is not required by law. Section 4132 of the New York Public Health Law establishes the form and content requirements for a birth certificate, but it does not expressly require the child’s name. As far back as 1987, the New York Times was reporting on changing social norms regarding baby surnames, largely related to women who do not take their husband’s name when they get married. Now that same-sex marriages are legally recognized throughout the country, naming conventions are likely to go through more changes.

Name changes are fairly common in divorces, such as when women want to return to their maiden name or another prior name. Children’s names potentially present greater controversy. The New York Civil Rights Law allows courts to order a name change for a minor, provided that “there is no reasonable objection” to the change and that the minor’s “interests…will be substantially promoted by the change.” The courts have delved further into these questions.

The New York Appellate Division held in 1984, in Matter of Goldstein, that “[d]epriving a child of his or her father’s surname is normally a far-reaching action.” The court identified multiple factors that a court may consider in evaluating a petition to change a child’s surname in Matter of Eberhardt (2011). These include whether a child identifies with or is known by a particular surname, whether a change would affect relationships with either parent, siblings, or others, whether a parent has engaged in misconduct, and the child’s own preference.

In Matter of K.E.O. (2017), a court granted a mother’s petition to change her child’s surname from the father’s surname to her maiden name. The court noted that the child identified with the mother’s name and that the father “ha[d] been largely absent from the infant’s life.” A court reached a similar conclusion in Matter of Cruz (2015) and noted that a name change might be “appropriate…when the child is of an age to begin school.”

A mother’s request to change her child’s surname to her maiden name was denied in Matter of Denington (2014). The court found that she no longer used her maiden name and that the father was not “guilty of misconduct, abandonment, or lack of support.” A court denied a mother’s request to change her two children’s names, with their father’s consent, in Matter of Kobra (2014). The proposed name change, based on “Bangladeshi custom,” would result in the children having a different surname than either parent. The court denied the request because it would be “inconsistent with American social customs and accepted practices.”

An experienced and skilled New York City child custody lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations in a child custody dispute. For more than 30 years, Ingrid Gherman has represented parents and spouses in family law matters in New York City. Contact us today online or at (212) 941-0767 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how our team can assist you.

More Blog Posts:

Court Overrules Gag Order Barring Discussion of Child Custody Case, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, April 7, 2017

New York Judge Grants Legal Custody of Child to Three People, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, March 30, 2017

Court Decisions Differ on Whether Men Who Make Donations to Help Others Conceive Are “Fathers” in a Legal Sense, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, March 24, 2017

Photo credit: “Choosing A Name” via Public Domain Pictures.