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 check with 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 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 deliver the court papers to them. 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 hire 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 of the Name Change Request
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 Court 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.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.