Life expectancy in the U.S. has increased over the past century. As a result, more grandparents live to influence the lives of their grandchildren. Although grandparents can help shape a child's ideals, morals and goals, their legal rights with regard to their grandchildren are limited. As a grandparent, you generally cannot change your granddaughter's last name unless you adopt her or obtain her parents' consent to do so.
If you lack legal custody of your granddaughter, you have no grounds under which to request that the court change the child's last name. Even if you fight for – and win – sole legal custody of your granddaughter, that does not automatically give you the right to give your granddaughter a new surname. State laws vary, but grandparents must generally have the written consent of both of the child's biological parents before a judge will agree to the name change.
Name Change Process
Each state's requirements vary with regard to name changes. The general process, however, typically requires that you visit the county clerk's office and request a Petition to Change the Name of a Minor or Minor Name Change Petition. The title of the form will vary slightly by state. Some jurisdictions make these forms available for download online. Return the completed petition and parental consent forms, if necessary, to the county clerk.
Some states, such as Florida, require that anyone attempting to change a minor child's name submit to fingerprinting and a criminal background check. After you submit the required documentation, the court schedules a hearing. At the hearing, a judge reviews the petition and makes a decision regarding whether the name change is in the child's best interests.
If you adopt your granddaughter, you become her adoptive parent. Adoption terminates the biological parents' rights and the adoptive parent becomes the legal parent. Should you adopt your granddaughter, you can legally change her name without seeking permission from her biological parents. The name change procedure is generally completed during the adoption process. When the court finalizes the adoption, it also finalizes the name change.
If your efforts to have your granddaughter's name changed are unsuccessful and your granddaughter also wants the change, she has the option to change her name when she reaches adulthood. Once she is no longer a minor, she has the right to petition the court to change her own name without first obtaining her biological parents' consent.
- Florida State Courts: Instructions for Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.982(c), Petition for Change of Name (Minor Child(ren))
- The Probate Courts of Connecticut: Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption Procedures (p.8)
- The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality Florida's Legal Advocacy Project: Florida Name Change Kit
Ciele Edwards holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been a consumer advocate and credit specialist for more than 10 years. She currently works in the real-estate industry as a consumer credit and debt specialist. Edwards has experience working with collections, liens, judgments, bankruptcies, loans and credit law.