It is common following the breakdown of a relationship involving children that the idea of changing a child’s name will arise.
Importantly, according to the Family Law Act, a child’s name is considered a major long-term issue. This means parents are required to consult with each other and make any decisions regarding the child’s name together.
Where parents consent to the name change
Where both parents consent to the change in name, this is easily achieved by filing a joint form with the relevant Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
A common alternative utilised by parents who consent to changing a child’s name is for the child to take a hyphenated combination of both parents’ surnames, for example Mary Jane Jones-Smith. Another option is to add the alternative surname as an additional middle name, for example changing Mary Jane Jones to Mary Jane Smith Jones.
Where parents do not consent to the name change
However, in the context of a separation it is often the case that one parent strongly opposes the name change. In that situation, it will be necessary to bring an application to the court seeking parenting orders, including an order for the name change.
When an application for parenting orders is brought, the parties are required to participate in compulsory mediation in an attempt to reach agreement without the need for intervention by the court, in all but a few specific circumstances such as where there is evidence/allegations of family violence. If the mediation is unsuccessful, then the parent seeking the order will commence proceedings.
In deciding whether or not to allow an application to change a child’s name, the courts will take into consideration a number of factors, including:
- the short and long term effects of any change in the child’s name;
- any embarrassment likely to be experienced by the child if it’s name is different to that of the parent with whom they primarily live;
- any confusion of identity which may arise for the child if his or her name is changed or is not changed;
- the effect of any change of the child’s name on the relationship between the child and either parent;
- the degree of identification that the child currently has with each parent; and
- the effect of frequent or random changes of name.
If the application for a name change is successful the court will make an order accordingly. Thereafter the parent seeking the name change can apply to the relevant Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the register to be altered to give effect to the order. Ultimately, it is important to remember that in any application regarding children, the interests of the child are paramount, and will be placed above the wishes of parents.