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The Law and You: Changing a child’s name

Watts McCray Lawyers

What happens when a parent wants to change their child’s surname?

This is not uncommon after a relationship breakdown and separation, especially when one parent has re-partnered or married again and other children with different surnames are involved. Sometimes parents wish to adopt a hyphenated surname for example, for all of their children. This can be an emotional and difficult issue for parents.

This article explores some of the legal issues that can arise when a parent wants to change a child’s surname.

I want to change my child’s surname. Do I need to consult with the other parent?

Yes. Unless a Court orders otherwise, both parents share responsibility for long-term decision making and this includes changing a child’s surname on their birth certificate. Both parents must agree before this can happen. If they agree, the parents can jointly apply to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages to change the child’s name on the register.

What if both parents do not agree?

One parent cannot unilaterally change a child’s surname. If one parent tries to do so, including changing the name by usage, then the other parent can apply to the Court for an Order to prevent this from occurring.

If we can’t agree, can I apply for a Court order permitting me to change my child’s surname?

Yes. You can apply under the Family Law Act to a Court for permission to change your child’s name. That application needs to be served on the other parent who then has a right to respond in Court. You can also apply for a Court order for sole parental responsibility, which would enable you to change your child’s surname unilaterally, although these Orders are not made all that often.

What will the Court consider when deciding whether a parent can change a child’s name?

There is no specific provision in the Family Law Act that deals with changing a child’s name. The Court will always examine all relevant issues and decide what’s best for the child. This is the most important consideration and it overrides the wishes of the parents.

What factors does the Court consider?

The Court can consider factors such as:

  • The age of the child and the wishes of the child
  • The short and long-term effects of a change in the child’s surname
  • Any embarrassment the child will likely experience with a name that is different from the name of the parent they’re living with or being cared by every day
  • Any confusion of identity for the child if their name is or isn’t changed
  • The effect a change in surname may have on the relationship between the child and either parent or any other child in their household
  • The effect of frequent or random changes of name

Is it worth seeing a lawyer about any proposed name change?

It’s always best to seek out Family Law advice from a specialist law firm with years of experience in legal matters. Our specialist lawyers can certainly help.

This expert column was prepared by Debra Parker, Partner, Watts McCray Lawyers Canberra.


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Watts McCray Lawyers

Watts McCray is a leading firm of family and relationship lawyers. They have the largest number of accredited family law specialists in Australia and are backed by years of experience. Their lawyers have the skills to provide you with sound, practical advice about issues such as relationship changes and separation, property and financial matters, parenting arrangements after separation, child support and divorce. Watts McCray can also provide you with legal help if you want to resolve matters without having to go through Court. They can help with negotiation, mediation, collaboration and arbitration services as well as the traditional Court litigation process. They can also help with your estate planning and wills. Call them on (02) 6257 6347 for more information and for tailored services to meet your specific legal needs. They are located in Canberra House at 40 Marcus Clarke Street. More about the Author