We are often asked about children’s names. Typically, these should not be changed without agreement from both parents. Occasionally, however, disputes about names reach court – and the recent case of Re W (Change of Name) is one such example.
In 2013, the mother of a child successfully appealed against an earlier decision that her child’s should take the father’s name as a middle name.
The parents of the one-year-old had separated before the child was born. After the birth, an agreement was reached to use the father’s name as the child’s middle name. However, the mother later changed her mind and didn’t use the father’s name when registering the birth.
The father applied for a court order to change the child’s name as an agreement had been reached previously. The mother claimed that, immediately following the birth, she hadn’t been in a fit state to object to her former partner’s “controlling behaviour”.
The court permitted the change of the child’s name. The mother appealed the decision, and her appeal was upheld by Lord Justices Jackson and Ryder in the Court of Appeal.
As family lawyers, we often encounter arguments over children’s names. When couples separate, names can take on a new importance. In most cases, however, the disputes centre upon surnames. For example, if a mother reverts to her maiden name or subsequently remarries, friction can result if she wishes to change her children’s names accordingly.
It’s tempting to revert to a maiden or family name, following the breakdown of a relationship. But, without an agreement between parents, it is severely frowned upon by the court and they may even order that the name is changed back. The court views a child’s name as fundamental to his or her identity. Sudden and controversial name changes do not sit well with judges.
In short, it the parents’ duty to work together for the best for their children, even during difficult times. Nothing can be more emotional or potentially destructive than proceedings regarding children, but approach the issue as a conflict and that is what will happen.