Section 382 of the Florida Statutes is a guide for parents in the naming of their child(ren). For example, the requirements on naming a child differ, depending on whether the parents are married or unmarried. Section 382.013(2), Florida Statutes (2015).
If a mother is married at the time of birth, the mother and father whose names are entered on the birth certificate select the given names and surname of the child if both parents have custody of the child; otherwise, the parent who has custody selects the child’s name. Section 382.013(3)(a), Florida Statutes (2015).
If a mother and father whose names are entered on the birth certificate disagree on the surname of the child and both parents have custody of the child, the surname selected by the father and the surname selected by the mother are then both entered on the birth certificate, separated by a hyphen, with the selected names entered in alphabetical order. Section 382.013(3)(b), Florida Statutes (2015).
If the parents disagree on the selection of a given name, the given name may not be entered on the certificate until a joint agreement that lists the agreed upon given name and is notarized by both parents is submitted to the department, or until a given name is selected by a court. Id.
If a mother is not married at the time of birth, the parent who will have custody of the child shall select the child’s given name and surname. Section 382.013(3)(c), Florida Statutes (2015).
When a name change is contemplated by one or both parents, the actions of a parent(s) are then governed by Section 68.07 of the Florida Statutes. Specifically, Section 68.07 provides how “[a] husband and wife and minor children may join in one petition for change of name and the petition must show the facts required of a petitioner as to the husband and wife and the names of the minor children may be changed at the discretion of the court.” See Section 68.07(7), Florida Statutes (2015).
Section 68.07(8) goes on to state how “[w]hen only one parent petitions for a change of name of a minor child, process shall be served on the other parent and proof of such service shall be filed in the cause”. Section 68.07(8), Florida Statutes (2015).
So what happens when only one parent petitions for a name change and the other parent objects? The case will then be decided by a Judge based on the best interests of the child.
The parent who is seeking to change his or her child’s name has the burden of proof to show the Court how a change in the child’s name would indeed be in the child’s best interests.
Specifically, the Courts have held how a change of a minor’s name should be ordered only where the evidence affirmatively shows that such change is necessitated by the welfare of the child. See Azzara v. Waller, 495 So. 2d 277, 278 (Fla. 2d DCA 1986) (quoting Lazow v. Lazow, 147 So. 2d 12 (Fla. 3d DCA 1962)); see also Coolidge v. Ulbrich, 733 So. 2d 1092, 1094 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999); Hayhurst v. Romano, 703 So. 2d 1178, 1179 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997). Neither the desires of the parents to have a connection with the child through the child’s name change nor the desire of one parent to distance him or herself from the other parent control. Wilson v. Smith, 51 So. 3d 1282 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011); see also Azzara, 495 So. 2d at 278; Hayhurst, 703 So. 2d at 1179.
The First District Court in Chamberlin v. Miller has held how a parent’s desire for a child to carry on a family name has no bearing on whether the child’s best interests are served by a name change and that speculative arguments are not sufficient to establish that a name change is in a child’s best interest. Chamberlin v. Miller, 47 So. 3d 381. 382 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010). Specifically, the Chamberlin court has stated the following:
When granting a petition to change the surname of a minor, a parent’s conclusory assertions are insufficient to demonstrate that the change is in the best interests of the child. Under the best interests standard, the record must affirmatively show that a name change is required for the welfare of the child. Collinsworth v. O’Connell, 508 So. 2d 744, 747 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987) (“This standard, emphasizing best interests of the child rather than parents, would accord effect to the same factors governing custody.”); Levine v. Best, 595 So. 2d 278 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992).
Id. (internal citations omitted).
The Girten court has also found how the carrying on the father’s family name alone is an insufficient reason to change the child’s name. Specifically, the Girten court held how a desire to change the child’s name solely because it was customary to use the father’s surname could not sustain a name change as “[t]his notion harkens back to outdated societal concepts of legitimacy, morality, and inheritance. Instead, “[t]he standard to [be] applied in changing a child’s name [should be] the best interest standard.” Girten v. Andreu, 698 So. 2d 886, 888 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997).
It should also be noted how Section 382.013(3) of the Florida Statutes does not permit a change of a surname based only on a finding of paternity. McKay v. Haikey, 860 So. 2d 1046, 1048 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003) (quoting Barden v. State, Dep’t of Revenue, 720 So. 2d 609 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998)). In other words, the mere fact that paternity has been established does not automatically entitle the father to insist the child be given his surname. Girten, 698 So. 2d at 888.
At the same time, however, a concern that a child may not have the same surname as either parent has been found to be a valid best interest factor as long as that concern is not merely speculative. McKay, 860 So. 2d at 1049 (quoting Daniel v. Moats, 718 So. 2d 949 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998)).
On the other hand, fear of child being teased if the child did not bear the same name as his father and the desire by a father to have the child bear his surname because of his concern that the use of the mother’s surname would allow her greater influence over the child were found to be insufficient to support a name change. Chamberlin, 47 So. 3d at 382.
Consequently, unless the parents can agree on a name change, the moving party should be prepared to argue how the proposed name change is in the child’s best interests as a change is necessitated by the welfare of the child. This is not an easy task and the outcome of the name change proceeding will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of the particular case and how they are presented to the Court.