Your legal right to change your child’s last name does not depend on your custody arrangement. Even if you have sole legal and physical custody, the court might not allow you to change her last name if her other parent maintains a frequent and loving relationship with her and if he objects. Your odds increase somewhat if you can prove your child will benefit from the change.
Speak with your child’s other parent. Ascertain his feelings regarding the name change. If he’s not adamantly opposed, you may be able to negotiate with him by pointing out all the reasons the change would benefit your child, or agree to a hyphenated name change so she retains his name as well. If he objects, and if you know this before you begin the process, you'll have more time to prepare your arguments for the court.
Go to the courthouse in the county where you were divorced or where a judge issued your custody order. You must petition for a name change in the same court. Speak with the court clerk and tell her whether you expect your child’s other parent to object. Depending on your situation, the clerk will give you the proper forms to fill out.
Complete the paperwork given to you by the court clerk. The documents will include a petition for the name change. If your child’s other parent is objecting, the clerk will probably also give you a summons so you can serve him with notice that you’re proceeding with a petition anyway. If he is in agreement, the clerk will give you a consent form for your child’s other parent to sign.
Return to the courthouse and file your documents with the clerk. Ask the clerk about acceptable methods of service in your state if your child’s other parent is objecting. Ask for a court date as well. If your child's other parent has agreed to the change and signed a consent, you generally do not have to serve him, but ask the clerk to make sure.
Serve your child’s other parent with copies of your filed documents, if he objects to the change. In most states, your county sheriff will deliver the documents to your child’s other parent for a small fee. Other states may allow you to send him a copy by certified mail.
Prepare your case for presentation to a judge, if your child’s other parent objects to the name change. If he has had minimal contact with your child, gather calendars or other records that show how rarely he has visited with her. If he has not paid you child support, gather documentation to prove this. If your child is a teenager, have her sign a statement saying that she wants the name change, and have it notarized. Be prepared to explain to a judge why the name change benefits your child.
Appear in court at the appointed time. Take the documentation you’ve gathered to support your case and present it to the judge. The judge will allow both you and your child’s other parent to give testimony regarding the matter and will make a decision to either approve or deny the change.
Beverly Bird is a professional writer who is also a practicing paralegal in the areas of divorce and family law. She has offered community workshops for single parents, helping them with the financial and lifestyle issues they often face.