As you watch U.S. Olympic downhill skier Bode Miller try to bring home the gold, you may hear commentators discussing his ongoing custody case. Miller is in the middle of an unresolved custody case with his infant son’s mother. A temporary agreement was reached that allowed him to bring his child with him to Sochi, but the overall case rages on. One contentious point in the case is the child’s name. Each parent calls him something different. This is a problem that sometimes comes up in custody and divorce cases. In Miller’s case, the parents do not even agree on the child’s first name. Often in bitter custody cases, one of the parents wishes to the change the child’s last name. When parents divorce, one parent wants to change the child’s name from the other parent’s last name (often the father’s name) to his or her own name (usually the mother’s name).
Sometimes the reasons for this are practical: one parent is going to have sole custody of the child and there will be little contact with the other parent. If the custodial parent is remarrying, there may be a wish for the child to have the same last name as the stepparent. Changing the child’s last name allows this new family unit to be cohesive. Sometimes a name change is requested out of spite as a way of trying to create a separation between child and parent.
In New Jersey, when a parent seeks to change a child’s name during or after a divorce or custody case and the parents share joint legal custody, the courtapplies a test to determine if the name change is in the best interests of the child. Neither parent is assumed to have any priority when it comes to the child’s last name. The trial court must decide the case by considering the following:
- How long the child has had their current last name
- Feelings of anxiety or discomfort that the child might experience from a name change
- How the child identify with the two family units.
DeTorres & DeGeorge is ready to help you with your divorce or custody issues. Call us today.