How to Legally Change a Child's Last Name

By Teo Spengler ; Updated June 09, 2017
Family with young children arriving home

To legally change your child's last name, you need court permission. File the petition your state requires, notify the other parent, publish notice of the name change if required by your jurisdiction, and convince the court that the name change is in the child's best interests.

Both Parents Filing Together

Changing a child's name is easiest if both parents file a petition together. The court form varies among states but always requires information identifying the child and both parents, including any criminal history and sex offender status. Obtain the correct forms, respond to each question, then sign and file. Most courts require other paperwork such as an Order to Show Cause, so talk to a court clerk in the family law division or visit the court website before filing. Expect to pay a filing fee as well. The court assigns you a hearing date, if necessary.

One Parent Filing Alone

If you not file the petition for your child's name change on your own, you must officially notify the other parent by arranging for an uninvolved third party to hand him the court papers. The other parent must receive the papers well in advance of the hearing – usually 30 days – so that he has the opportunity to oppose the petition. If the name change is contested, you may want to bring in an attorney to outline your reasons for filing the petition. Antipathy toward a former spouse is not sufficient. You must persuade the judge that the change is in the child's best interests or she will deny the petition.

Publishing Notice

Many states require that you publish a name change request in a local newspaper to give notice to the public. In California, for example, you must arrange for a newspaper of general circulation to publish the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name for four consecutive weeks. Ask about the cost before you decide in which paper you want to publish the order.

Appearing at the Hearing

On the date set, you must appear in court with your case file including proof of publication if it is required in your location. In some states, like New York, you need a written statement of consent, signed by your child before a notary if she is age 14 or older. You may present evidence and bring in witnesses. If the other parent or a third party argues against the name change, the court determines whether the change is in the child's best interests. The judge issues a decree changing the name or denies the petition.

Proceeding Without the Other Parent

If you cannot give the other parent notice of the name change petition, you must explain the reasons to the court. If the other parent is deceased, present an official death certificate. If you don't know the name of the other parent, explain this to the court in your petition. If you can't locate the other parent, detail the attempts you made to locate him. If you or your child are victims of domestic violence or have similar safety issues, explain these matters to the court.

About the Author

Living in France and Northern California, Teo Spengler is an attorney, novelist and writer and has published thousands of articles about travel, gardening, business and law. Spengler holds a Master of Arts in creative writing from San Francisco State University and a Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley. She is currently a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in fiction.