Changing Child’s Last Name in NJ

So your significant other has become insignificant and you do not want any part of them. You do not even want to hear their name again. This is a bit of a problem because your shared child has that last name, and you want it gone immediately. You make a unilateral decision and start using your last name instead as if your now insignificant other will not notice the children’s last name is different. How do you think that will work out? This is not the way to go about changing child's last name in NJ

If the two of you cannot come to a mutual decision on the name, then the courts are there to make the decision for you. One of you will not like the decision at all and, hopefully, neither of you will like the fact that your child will be dragged into it.

So how do I change my child's last name?

For those of you or those of you that wish to have the courts make the decision, the courts have set standards for changing child's last name in NJ: one standard if you have been married, one standard if you have not been married. The determination is to be based on the best interests of the child by application of these standards.

Factors applied regardless of marital status of parents
  • How long the child has used one surname
  • The identification of the child as a family member or of a family unit
  • Any potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort the child might experience if the child and custodial parent have a different surname (there is no consideration of potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort of the child in not having the same surname as the parent not the given the presumption of choice of surname)
  • Any preference of the child should the child be old enough to express a preference
  • Any additional factor the court chooses to consider
Factor considered by court if the parents were never married

At this time, for children born to an unmarried couple, the courts have overcome the custom and law biased toward using the father’s surname and will now shift the bias to applying a strong presumption in favor of the choice of surname of the parent with sole legal or exercising physical custody, the mother in the gross percentage of cases. The case that created the standards for this determination for unmarried parents was decided in 1995.

Factor not considered by court if the parents were married

In the event the child was born to parents that marry, there is no presumption in favor of the parent with sole legal custody or exercising physical custody. In other words, because they were married, this decision is made on a more even playing field, with neither getting a preference. It does appear that the court will consider the terms of any custody agreement or order between the parties as well, at least where the parties have been married.

The case that created this standard for parents that have been married was decided in January of 2012, the first time this issue had come before the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. This is a very young case, so we are sure to see the standard being refined as more such cases come before the court.

Though these name change cases can be brought under a specific statute for name change they can also be brought on their own in Family Court, or as part of custody or divorce cases. Where you bring it makes no difference as far as the standard that will be applied in making the decision.

If you need to discuss changing child's last name in NJ, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation at 201-845-7400.

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