Family Law

Changing a child’s surname

An article by Kathryn Cassells, Associate

Changing a child’s surname

Parents who have Parental Responsibility (“PR”) may jointly decide to change a child’s name.  This is done by executing a deed poll to evidence the change of name.  A deed poll is a legally binding document.

If a situation arises where one parent does not agree to change the child’s name, then they will have to make an application to the court.  

Most typically, an application to change the child’s surname is made to the court after separation for one of the following reasons:

  • A parent may want the child to share their name if their name has changed as a consequence of a divorce;
  • A parent may want all the children of the family to share the same surname;
  • To remove negative connotations – for example if a child shares the name of a parent who was violent or abusive;
  • For safety and protection reasons;
  • If a parent believes that he/she was deprived from exercising parental responsibility by not being able to choose the child’s surname;

Making an application

If you cannot obtain consent from all those with Parental Responsibility, an application to the court will need to be made under s13 of the Children Act 1989 (“CA 1989”) for a Specific Issue Order seeking permission to change the child’s name.

What will the court consider?

The leading case on changing a child’s surname is Dawson v Wearmouth UKHL 18, says that the court should only allow a child’s surname to be changed where this is in the child’s best interests.

Each case is fact-dependant.  However, the court will consider all the circumstances of the case and will have particular regard to the following:

  • The length of time the child has been known by their current/existing name;
  • The effect on the child should a change be permitted;
  • The effect on the child should the change not be permitted;
  • The reasons for the change of name;
  • If the child is old enough, the name by which the child wants to be known; and
  • Factors that could arise in the future as well as at the time of making the application.

Points to keep in mind when making an application

  • An application motivated by convenience is very unlikely to succeed. In the case of Re T (Change of Surname) 2 FLR 620, the court refused a mother’s application to change the child’s surname because it would be more convenient for school and medical records.
  • Applications motivated by ‘ownership’ will not find much favour with the court. Lady Justice Hale (as she then was) showed her distain for such applications in Re R (Surname: using both parents) stating: “it is a poor sort of parent whose interest in and commitment to his child depends on that child bearing his name”.
  • Surnames are often considered an important indicator of background including cultural and religious background.
  • Consider whether a double-barrelled surname would be a possible compromise, in order to recognise both parents.

If you are affected by any of the issues contained in this article or if you require further information, please contact a member of our team.  The team has in-depth experience of change of name applications and can provide guidance – by way of a standalone application or within existing (or contemplated) Children Act proceedings.