Recently I was asked who gets to choose the last name of a newborn child? Typically, this issue comes up when a child is born to parents who are not married. After the birth, the mother is usually given a form to fill out in the hospital “naming” the child and identifying the mother and father. This information is used to create the birth certificate for the child. So what happens when the mother and father each want the child to have their last name; who wins the debate? If the parents cannot agree, then the mother’s choice will likely prevail.
There are also circumstances where a parent seeks to change a child’s last name. For example, a step-parent decides to adopt their step-child. Should the child’s name automatically change to that of the step-parent? Or, what if custody changes; will the new custodial parent get to change the child’s name without question? The courts will always look to the best interest of the child. Evidence that a child has used another parent’s name for a period of time, or if the child has a level of comfort with a certain name, will weaken the custodial parent’s choice. Other factors that our courts examine include the length of time that the child used one surname; the identification of the child as a member of a family unit; the potential anxiety or embarrassment a child might experience if their surname is different from the custodial parent and any preference that the child might express, if sufficiently mature to express same.