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A Guide to Changing Your Child’s Last Name: Navigating the Legal Process

Driving down the highway, it suddenly hits you: you want to change your child’s name. This isn’t a matter of regretting the first name that you gave to your child after he was born. This is a matter of wanting to change your child’s last name now that you have been through a divorce. Or you may simply want to change your child’s last name to honor your family’s heritage or to better tie your child into your family history. Whatever the reason, changing your child’s name is a big decision and one that you should be as intentional about as possible.

A court order is a way that you can legally change your child’s name. In that court order, the judge would grant your request made to change your child’s name after attending a hearing. Any parent of your child, their conservator, or a legal guardian of your child may file a petition to change his or her name. The district clerk in the county where your child resides would be the proper location for filing a name change petition.

There are costs associated with changing a child’s name once you file the petition in court. You can ask the clerk of that court for a fee schedule which would tell you how much the filing fees are for a case like this. If you are someone who has a low income, then you can ask the court to have your filing fees and costs waived. The Texas Fee Waiver form is the key to being able to make this request successfully.

When you file a court case you will usually pay a filing fee. There could also be other court costs associated with your case depending on the county where you reside. Copies of documents may need to be paid for or you may have to pay money to have your spouse served with divorce papers. Once you complete and submit your statement of inability to afford payment of court costs and it is approved then you would not have to pay for any of the costs charged by the court to file your name change case.

How do you prove an inability to pay court costs?

You would need to show a judge that any of the following circumstances are in play for your family to have the court costs waived. Receiving government benefits like food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, or public housing are benefits that would tend to show that you have a proven need for waiving your court costs. Having been appointed an attorney by the court is another sign that you need to have your court costs waived. The other basic circumstance which could indicate an inability to pay your court costs is if you can show the judge that you are unable to meet your household bills and things like groceries.

Any sort of expenses or out-of-the-ordinary costs that you run into should be provided to the judge in detail using separate sheets of paper in addition to the application. The clerk will review your application for a court costs waiver. If he or she does not believe that you need the waiver, then a contest will be submitted and a judge will decide the issue. If you apply and nobody tries to file a contest, then you will be approved to have your court costs waived. You will not need to wait to file your case if the clerk files a contest associated with your case. A hearing would be held in which you could submit your case to the judge as to why you need to have your court costs waived.

What sort of notice must you provide to your co-parent?

If you are trying to change the name of your child, then you will need to notify him or her that this change is being asked of the court. The exception to this rule would be if your co-parent has had their parental rights terminated. This could happen if a court did so against the will of your co-parent or if you and your co-parent filed an agreed motion to have their parental rights terminated. This could have happened if it has been shown that your co-parent is unable to care for the needs of your child or if your co-parent has had a problem with drugs or alcohol. Since terminating parental rights is only done if it is in the best interests of your child then the burden is substantial to show a court how the best interests of your child would be improved if your co-parent’s rights were terminated.

The same general idea applies to a proposed name change. If you and your co-parent agree on the name change then you can file an agreed motion to change your child’s name. It is a much easier and faster process when your co-parent agrees to join in on the lawsuit with you. If your co-parent does not agree to the name change then you are in a position where you will need to notify your co-parent by having him or her served with a citation by either a constable, sheriff, or private process server. This is true even if you are the only parent named on the birth certificate of your child.

What are the best interests of the child standard as it pertains to a child name change?

The main reason why you are requesting to change the name of your child should relate to doing what is in your child’s best interests. There are so many ways to get sidetracked during a family law case and putting your focus on what is in your child’s best interests is the best way to avoid completely losing touch about what matters most. It is not doing something because you feel like you can or because your child is asking for it. Rather, you need to bear in mind that the best interests of your child need to be served by taking this step and filing a petition to change your child’s name.

Your most important goal, and the goal of the court in a child name change situation, is to work towards making sure your child’s name is reflective of who he or she is as a person. Even young children are working towards developing their personality and different characteristics will ultimately define them as they mature. Their name can give your child a tremendous sense of identity and cohesiveness with your family and extended family. When you maintain your focus within the family law case you make it easier for your child to begin living a new life under a different name which will hopefully serve your child well now and in the future.

If you have a co-parent who has your child’s current last name, then it is not easy to ask a court to change their last name. If you argue that your child needs a name change to allow him or her to have more of a connection to this family, it is difficult to do that when your child already shares a last name with your co-parent. Think about these things before you file a petition to have your child’s name changed. The less involved in your child’s life your co-parent is the simpler it is to have a request for a name change approved by the court without the need for a long, drawn-out process.

What are some legal terms that you need to familiarize yourself with regarding a petition to change your child’s name?

Even with all this information at your disposal, there is still the matter of figuring out what the basic steps of a case are. For instance, we have talked about filing the name change petition with the district clerk, serving notice upon your opposing party, and how a judge will look at your petition. However, we have not specifically gone into the process involved nor what terms are important for you to understand as you begin this journey.

To start with, you need to be able to serve your other parent with a copy of your petition and a citation from the court which will allow for information to be written down and provided to the district clerk regarding the date on which you are served with paperwork. Personal service is the most direct way to notify your other parent of the lawsuit. You can personally serve your other parent by walking up to him and hiring a third-party process server, constable, or sheriff.

If you cannot personally serve your other parent with notice of the lawsuit, then you may be able to petition the court for an alternative method of service. In this case, that alternative method of service could be serviced by mail where you mail the court papers certified to a return address. Once service has been completed, the return receipt will be sent back to the family court, and you will receive credit for officially serving your other parent with notice of the lawsuit.

What else do you need to consider when it comes to changing your child’s name?

There are almost always unique circumstances that families must go through when it comes to making a big decision like changing the name of your child. One of the most frequently asked questions that we run into is whether you must check with your co-parent on a question like this if his or her name does not appear on the birth certificate. The truth is that if you are the only parent who is named on your child’s birth certificate then you are not the only one who needs to be able to know that the name change petition. In this situation, you can have your co-parent served with notice personally and will have then satisfied the rules as far as notification of an opposing party.

The termination of parental rights is a major step that a court can take, as well. When you have your parental rights terminated this is a defining moment in the relationship between your child and your other parent. When your child’s other parent’s parental rights have been terminated for any reason then he or she is no longer a parent to your child. He or she would remain as a biological parent to your child but that alone does not carry with it any types of conservatorship rights or duties. Rather, you need to be named as a co-parent in a court order. Once your child’s other parent has had their parental rights terminated then you no longer have a duty to notify him or her of a name change petition having been filed.

Let’s assume that you do not know who your child’s father is. If you do not know who the father of your child is, then you are not stopped from filing a name change petition. Are likely going to need to provide the court with a statement showing your diligent efforts to identify and notify your child’s father of the pending name change lawsuit. If the court thinks you have gone to great enough lengths to locate your child’s father, then it may be able to approve the name change request without your child’s other parent becoming involved.

From our experience, filing a request to change the name of your child at the same time you are going through with a modification or enforcement lawsuit would be for the best. A court will sometimes more readily grant the name change petition if you are doing so concurrent to another family law case. By filing these cases at the same time, you may be able to save yourself time and expense and need to spend a great number of resources on maintaining two different family law cases.

What happens in a hearing where you are attempting to change your child’s name?

Even before the name change hearing begins or is scheduled then it is the time for you to get together all important documents and have them organized. Your name change petition, proof that your other parent was served, and other documentation which goes to show why you are requesting the name change should all be organized and kept together. Remember that the best interest of your child is what the court will look at primarily and you should be ready to answer any questions from the judge about this subject. Review the reason stated in your petition as to why the name change is being requested. Then be ready to answer questions posed to you by the judge about these stated reasons.

When you attend a name change hearing it is important to remember that the judge may ultimately side with you on this issue of a name change but for the most part, he or she will be attempting to gather information to determine whether the name change request is in the best interests of your child. So, if it seems like the judge is being hostile or difficult with you it is probably just a situation where he or she is just trying to perform their due diligence on the issue.

What to do after your child’s name has been changed

Once the court has approved the name change which you are requesting then it is time for you to think about any places where your child’s name needs to be changed. The following is a list of places where your child’s name may need to be changed on official documentation. The first place that comes to mind is the Social Security Administration. Each of us is assigned a Social Security number at birth. If your child’s name were to change at any point during their life, he or she would need to contact the SSA for an update to their card. Your child’s school should be contacted so their name can be changed on the official registration information. The same is true for healthcare providers on behalf of your child. If your child is covered under any kind of health insurance policy or even through Medicaid, then these groups should be contacted about the name change which has occurred for your child.

When it comes to these important subjects the sooner you act on the motivation to get these changes done, the better off you and your child will be. It is a great thing to have your name change petition approved but if you do not follow through on updating your child’s name in these different places you may eventually forget to do so or run into other issues which can be difficult for you and your family.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

if you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog, post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.

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