Very often the first piece of information that we have about a person is their name. A name helps you to form an identity. Under current law, an adult can request a name change as they desire, but who decides whether it is appropriate to change a child’s name?
Historically, the Court left that decision up to the child’s custodial parent but with the trend shifting towards shared parenting time arrangements, the law has also shifted to reflect that change. The Supreme Court expanded upon the concept initially set forth in Gubernat v. Deremer, 140 N.J. 120 (1995) when addressing the issue of changing a child’s surname.
In applying the best interest of the child standard when determining whether to change a child’s surname, New Jersey Courts have considered a number of criteria including:
- The length of time the child has used his or her given surname;
- Identification of the child with a particular family unit;
- Potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort that may result from sharing a different surname from the custodial parent;
- The child’s preference if mature enough to express a preference
- Parental misconduct or neglect, such as failure to provide support or maintain contact with the child;
- Degree of community respect, or lack thereof, associated with either paternal or maternal name;
- Improper motivation on the part of the parent seeking the name change;
- Whether the mother has changed or intends to change her name upon remarriage;
- Whether the child has a strong relationship with any siblings with different names;
- Whether the surname has important ties to family heritage or ethnic identity; and
- The effect of the name change on the relationship between the child and each parent
Lindsey Moskowitz Medvin successfully prevailed in her efforts to modify the name of her client’s seven (7) year old son, to include a hyphenated version of his mother’s name. In this matter, the child began as a foster child to the Mother. The Mother and Father were in a relationship at the time the child was adopted and they lived together as a family unit. When the parties separated, the Mother desired to hyphenate her son’s last name to include her name but the Father refused. After more than a year in litigation, the Judge determined that it was in the child’s best interest to change his name to include his Mother’s name. The focus at Trial was the significance for the child to identify with members of both his mother’s and his father’s family because doing so is an integral part of forming a child’s identity.