Parents might want to change their child’s name for a variety of reasons. Perhaps there is an absent parent or the child is being bullied, or perhaps the child wants to change his or her name.
The starting point is to work out who has Parental Responsibility for the child. Parental Responsibility is defined as “the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property“. In essence this means the right to be involved in making decisions for the child.
The mother will always have Parental Responsibility; the father can acquire it by being on the birth certificate, marrying the mother, by an official agreement or by court order.
If the father does not have Parental Responsibility then the mother can change the child’s name without the father’s consent and a solicitor can help prepare the relevant paperwork. You might want to think about consulting or informing the father however, particularly if he is present in the child’s life, simply to avoid conflict which may have an impact on the child.
If the father has Parental Responsibility then you should try to obtain his consent in writing to the name change. Understandably fathers are often unwilling to agree to a change if their name is being removed, as they feel their connection to the child is being removed.
If the father won’t agree and you want to push ahead you’ll need to make an application to court for what is called a Specific Issue Order. These types of applications can be used to ask the court to decide all manner of things: what school the child should attend, what religion a child should be brought up in, whether they should have an operation, or even whether they should have their hair cut.
The court will decide on the basis of what is in the child’s best interests and will also take into account the provisions as set out in the governing legislation, the Children Act 1989 which includes:
- the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned;
- his physical, emotional and educational needs;
- the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
- his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
- any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
This is known as the Welfare Checklist.
If the court decides that it is best for the child’s name to change, then they will make an order which gives you permission.
You should bear in mind that the father can make an application to stop you changing your child’s name; this is known as a Prohibited Steps Order, and the court will consider the same factors as set out above.
If the father does not consent and you don’t want to make an application to court then the child may need to wait until they are 18, at which point they can change their name themselves.
Victoria is a solicitor in the Richmond team, contact her for further advice.
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