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Divorce, children and surnames

North Carolina readers may be interested to know that a recent court decision involving children and the surname they use. The court held that when a child's surname is selected by both parents, it can only be changed if it serves the best interests of the child.

The case in question involved a couple who divorced in 2010. They had two children and both were given the father's surname at birth. The mother received primary custody of the children and reverted to using her maiden name. A short time later, the father discovered she was using a hyphenated name for the children by combining her last name with his last name. When the father protested, she filed a motion to change the children's last name to her last name. The first court to hear the case granted her motion since she was the primary parent, but an appellate court held it wasn't appropriate to change the name of children who were both born when the parents were married to each other.

The appellate court took the view that case the mother's attorney was using as an argument, Gubernat v. Deremer, didn't hold in this particular case because the parents had made a decision about the children's surname together. It held that in such a situation, neither parent has the right to unilaterally change the children's last name, because it is assumed they are co-parenting the children.

Divorce issues involving children are often complicated and emotional. If there are issues occurring that weren't addressed in the divorce decree, it might be in the best interests of the children to consult a family law attorney. An attorney may be able to explain the various options and perhaps help create an agreement that will benefit each member of the family.

Source: Justia, "And They Shall Call Him . . .? Post-Divorce Disputes Over Children’s Surnames", Joanna L. Grossman, August 22, 2013

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