There are numerous reasons why someone would want a name change for their child. A name change can signal a new chapter for someone's life, get rid of the name associated with it, or even change a child's last name to their new stepparents' name. Whatever the reason, you should be informed about the legal process of what it takes to get your child's name legally changed.
Who, Where, and How Do I get A Name Change?
To begin, only a parent, guardian, or any other conservator can have a child's name change. Yes, this means that a child themselves cannot get a name change even if they want. For a child's name, or with any person for that matter, to get a legal name change, this will need to be done in court. Any other informal name changes are not permitted and will not be legally recognized.
The process begins by filing a petition for a name change and must be done in the county where the child lives. This means you will not get a name change from just any county judge; the child must meet the residency requirement of living in that county.
The requirements of the petition itself will ask some important information regarding the name change like the reason for the name change request, why the name change should be granted, the "new" requested full name, and inform the court if there are any previous court orders involving the child who names you seek to change.
How Much Will it Cost?
While name changes are not free, there is no set price on how much it will cost. This is because every county will have a different filing fee. It would be best to contact a district clerk's office in the county you plan to file to find those amounts. However, most attorneys will easily have that information available to them.
If you cannot afford an attorney to represent you in your name change matter, or if you are not even able to express yourself as a pro se, meaning without any legal representation, you may file a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. You will need to prove your substantial need for these court fees to be waived.
What If I Only Have a Minor change?
There are scenarios where a parent may make a minor error on a child's birth certificate, such as mistakes in the spelling of the child's first, middle, or last name. I have met some people who believe that even with these minor changes, there would need to be a court order fixing those mistakes.
However, this belief is not valid. These minor changes can be corrected through a birth certificate amendment. This can be done by filling out form VS-170 and mailing it to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
This form and the methods to mail it in can be found on the DSHS website itself. They offer a free downloadable PDF form for both birth and death certificate amendments. If you have more questions regarding these minor amendments, you can visit the DSHS website at https://www.dshs.texas.gov/vs/reqproc/amendment.shtm.
Consent to Name Changes
The following important part of the name change process involves consent. This means that either one of the parties will have to consent to a name change.
First, it is the easiest and most cost-efficient method for both parents to agree regarding the name change. If you are one parent on your lonesome petitioning to change your child's name, you will need to give the additional parent notice of the name change. The only way to get around this part is if a court order has legally terminated one of the parent's parental rights. In that instance, the other parent would not need to notice the name change but will need to see any additional court-ordered conservator or guardian.
If you must notify the other parent and agree, both parents can file the requests together, giving mutual consent. However, things become more complex and costly when one parent does not agree. In this instance, the other parent would need to be served with the name change petition by either a constable, sheriff, or private process server. In these instances, it would be wise to have an experienced attorney working with a process server. The above is true for any parent regarding legal notice, even if the other parent is not listed on the child's birth certificate.
Does My Child Have to Agree?
If you have a child under ten years old, a court will not require the child's actual consent to the name change. However, if you have a child over the age of 10, they must consent to the name change themselves to be granted. Typically, if a child gives their written consent, their name change will be awarded over the objection of one parent.
Remember, any court order involving children will always be made about what is in the "best interest of the child." There are specific factors considered in name changes defined by the Texas Supreme Court and other appellate courts in Texas. Some of the elements can include: if the name change will help the child avoid embarrassment, anxiety, inconvenience, etc.; if the child has used that name for a long time and how they identify with it, etc. There are many factors to consider when courts consider changing a child's identity.
I Don't Know Where the Other Parent Is?
If you are looking to give legal notice to the other parent about a name change but are unsure of their whereabouts, you may be able to provide that notice through a publication like a newspaper, online, etc. In this instance, the other parent will need to have their rights represented through an Attorney Ad Litem, which the parent filing the petition will have to hire. This also goes for any parent who doesn't know who the other parent of their child is: an attorney ad litem will be needed along with service by publication.
The Next Steps
Although the process can seem simple, unfortunately, this doesn't always go as planned when one of the parties' names changes is contested. If you are unsure about your situation or have particular circumstances that you would like to get an opinion on, we have designated experts trained in name changes. Please call our office to set up a FREE 30-minute consultation, and thank you for your attention to this blog.