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Can I change my child’s last name if I have sole custody?

Girl with backpack on smiling at her motherA parent may file a request for a child’s name change in New Jersey. This application could be made in a divorce complaint, in a motion to the court, following a divorce, or in a Family Court non-dissolution case where the parties are not married, and were never married. The family court will make a determination consistent with the child’s best interests, even if the other parent objects to the name change request.

If your child is 18 years of age or older, it is their responsibility to seek the request for name change independently. A parent must file a complaint with the family court if the child is 17 years of age or younger and you want to know if you can change your child’s last name if you have sole custody.

If you want to know if you can change your child’s name if you have sole custody, you first have to meet this criteria for an application for name change.

  1. The parent must have reasonable and proper clauses for the child’s name change request.
  2. The application cannot be made in an effort to avoid paying debts, creditors, avoiding criminal prosecution, or for some other improper purpose.
  3. If the child’s other parent does not live with the parent making the application, or live with the child, the parent making the application is required to send a copy of the application to the last known address of the other parent.

If the other party does not object to the name change, and the other requirements are satisfied, generally the application will be granted. When the child’s other parent makes an objection, the court has to make a determination as to whether you can change your child’s name if you have sole custody.

When both parents agree to the name change, there is generally not an issue with respect to the outcome of the application. However, when one parent objects, it is up to the court to make a decision in the child’s best interest. When there is an objection, or the other parent is notified but doesn’t participate, it is up to the court to make a decision.

How to legally change your child’s last name in New Jersey

A legal guardian can change a child’s last name. In the state of New Jersey, parents or guardians of a child are encouraged to first try to agree on a requested name change before a matter proceeds to trial to determine if you can change your child’s name if you have sole custody. New Jersey courts have reasoned that the parties with custody should make joint decisions whenever possible, but when they come to court judges should treat their opinions equally.

New Jersey courts have listed factors for trial judges to consider when asked to determine if you can change your child’s name if you have sole custody:

  1. How long the child has used their given name
  2. Child identification with the particular side of the family 
  3. Potential embarrassment, anxiety or discomfort a child may feel if the child has a surname that differs from the primary custodial parent’s name 
  4. The child’s preference if the child is mature enough to decide and express preference 
  5. History, if any, of parental misconduct or neglect including failing to provide financial and emotional support or stay connected with the child.
  6. The degree of community respect, or lack of it, connected to the paternal or maternal name
  7. Improper motivation by the parent seeking the changing of the child’s last name 
  8. Whether the mother changed, or plans to change her name, if she eminently remarries 
  9. Whether the child has a strong relationship with siblings with different last names
  10. Whether the surname has significant ties to family, heritage or ethnic identity 
  11. The impact of the name change on the relationship between the child and each parent.

Here at DeTorres and DeGeorge, divorce and child custody lawyers, our team of experienced attorneys can work with you if you want to discuss if you can change your child’s last name if you have sole custody.  If you have questions about how to legally change your child’s last name, whether you should keep old divorce papers, or if you have questions about New Jersey name changes, contact us today. We are here to help.

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