Child Name Change Law

How to Change a Child’s Name

A parent, adoptive stepparent, and/or legal guardian, has a right to petition the court to change his or her minor child’s first, middle and/or last (surname) name if changing the child’s name is in the child’s best interest.

 

The court decides what name change, if any, is in the child’s best interest after a court hearing where persons who might want to object to the child’s name change have an opportunity to be heard.

Note: Nicknames or aliases that are not used for legal purposes do not require court orders.

Common reasons parents and/or guardians petition the court to legally change a child’s name include:

  • A change in name to reflect the child’s mother’s surname after divorce from the child’s father;

  • A change in name to reflect the name of an adopting parent(s)’ surname;

  • A change in name to reflect the name of the child’s stepparent’s surname, and;

  • A change in name to protect the child from physical or financial harm.

 

The child’s first, middle, and/or surname can be changed either completely, or partially, including a hyphen added to the name, so long as the change in name is in the child’s best interest.

Note: A child’s name may not be changed to include numbers, obscenities, symbols, or racial epithets; also, a child’s name may not be changed to promote fraud, create confusion, avoid creditors, or conceal the child’s location for an unlawful purpose (i.e. attempting to conceal the identity of a child from the child’s other parent without legal justification).

 

Also, an non-emancipated minor child may not petition the court to change his or her own name without parental consent; however, older children of sufficient maturity may be allowed to address the court concerning his or her desire to have his or her name changed.

Note: A minor is a person under the age of eighteen (18) who has not been legally emancipated by the court.

The Child Name Change Process

When parents and/or guardians agree to change their child's name they may jointly file a petition for child name change. If the family law judge agrees to the name change the judge will grant an order to have the child’s name changed to reflect the new requested name. The legal process is relatively simple and fast when both parents agree to change their child’s name.

Note: Parents who have had their parental rights terminated in either a juvenile dependency action or a stepparent adoption case do not have the right to object to a parent’s petition to change the name of a minor child.

No Agreement to Name Change: When only one parent or legal guardian agrees to a child’s name change, either because the other parent or guardian objects to the name change, or because the other parent cannot be found, the process to change a child’s name is more complicated.

 

To legally change a child’s name without the permission of the other legally interested party (child’s other parent or guardian), the petitioning person must timely notify the other party of the request to legally change their child's name. This means that the petitioning parent must legally inform the other parent or guardian, at least thirty (30) days before the hearing on the name change petition, of the time, place, and details of the petitioner’s request, including giving notice to the other parent or guardian of his or her right to object to the proposed name change request.

Note: Pre-printed legal forms, which are used for child name change requests, are offered by the Judicial Counsel of California. The family law court and most family law lawyers also have the legal forms required for child name change petitions.

Legal Notice Requirements

California law requires that, unless both parties agree in writing to waive the notice requirement(s), the non-petitioning party (the respondent) must be served with a copy of the petition for child name change. If the respondent resides in California, he or she must be personally handed a copy of the petition by a third party not involved in the dispute; if he or she resides out of California, he or she can be served by registered mail, return receipt requested.

A parent has a right to object to a child’s name change petition. If the responding parent objects to the petition then both parents must attend court or have a lawyer attend court on their behalf. A person who has been properly served with notice of the proposed name change, but willingly does not attend the court hearing, could lose his or her right to object to the child’s name change request. On the other hand, when the parents or guardians agree to the child’s name change, the parents might be able to obtain the court’s desired order with little, or no, court appearance.

Note: A legal guardian has the same rights to change his or her ward’s (child’s) name; however, when a guardian petitions the court to change a child’s name there are usually two persons to whom the guardian must give notice about the proposed name change. Guardians must bring their Letters of Guardianship to court.

Also, if the biological father of the child subject to the proposed name change was not married to the child’s mother when their child was born, then the child’s father will need to establish parentage through a paternity suit before he may start, or respond to, a child name change request.

Other Child Name Change Requirements

A Petition for Name Change of a Child must be filed in the Superior Court of the county where the child lives. The child subject to the proposed name change may not be under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Correction, in state prison, on parole, or required to register as a sex offender.

 

The petition must include a reasons for the name change as well as proof that the child’s proposed name was published in an approved newspaper for at least four weeks. The Clerk of the Court in the county where the child’s name will be changed will have a list of approved newspapers for this purpose.

Note: For security reasons, participants in a state’s witness protection program, as well as victims of domestic violence, may request that the court not require the publication of the proposed child name change. This request for non-publication is usually made in connection to a request for domestic violence restraining order (DVRO).

The Decree of Name Change

If the judge approves the Petition for Change of Name, he or she will sign a Decree of Name Change. After the Decree of Name Change is signed by the family law judge a certified copy of the order changing the child’s name may be ordered from the Clerk of the Family Court.

The certified copy can be used to change a child’s name on legal documents, including a birth certificate, social security card, passport, driver’s license, school records, credit cards, bank accounts, wills, trust, contracts, tax records, power of attorney, and more.

To learn more about how to change a child’s name, including the required forms, arguments in support of, or opposition to, a proposed name change, and more, contact our divorce and family law attorneys today for a free consultation. We offer all family law services, including DVRO requests, divorce, juvenile dependency hearings, legal separation, community property division, fathers’ rights, annulments, paternity suits, child support, alimony, child custody, and more. Call today!

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