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Divorced Mother’s Attempt to Change Surname of Child Denied

March 12, 2012 | Posted In Family Law - Appeals, Divorce

New Jersey Family Lawyers Explain Rulings’ Significance

A divorced mother, who attempted to change her children's surnames has had her request denied.  A judge had initially granted the woman's request based on the fact that she was the primary residential parent, but an appellate court has overturned that ruling.

In the case, Emma versus Evans, Jessica Evans divorced Paul Emma in 2010.  The couple's two children were given their father's surname ‘Emma’ at birth.  However, after the divorce, Evans reportedly went ahead and unilaterally changed the children's surname to Evans-Emma.  The name was changed on the children's school certificates, as well as on their health insurance documents. 

Her ex-husband sought a court order to stop the name change.   The woman then requested an order that would grant her permission to change the children's surname to hers.

A Superior Court judge initially granted her request, ruling that as the parent of primary residence, she had a right to change her children's surnames in her favor.  However, the Appellate Division has overturned that ruling.  According to the Appellate Division, there is no presumption that the primary residential parent has the authority to make unilateral decisions like this on his or her own.

According to the Appellate Division, the ‘best interests’ test should be used while making decisions related to children's names. This a test that New Jersey family lawyers are very familiar with and often applies to other aspects custody and parenting decisions by divorced couples.  The court also indicated that the decision in Gubernat v. Deremer provided important guidance.  In that case, the court held that it is necessary to consider the length of time that a child has used his surname, the potential anxiety or embarrassment to the child from the change to his name and other factors before making a decision on a name change.

The New Jersey family lawyers at Helmer Paul Conley and Kasselman represent persons in divorce, child custody, child support and other family law-related matters across New Jersey.


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