When getting ready to welcome a new baby, one of the most important things to consider is what to name the child. It's also important to consider what the baby's last name should be, especially in complicated cases where the parents may not be married. Each state has its own laws for a baby's surname, and Massachusetts is no exception.
In married parents, it's generally expected that the baby will take the father's last name. However, there are no laws saying that this has to be the case, in Massachusetts or anywhere else in the country, and no law in the United States that requires that the father's last name appear on a baby's birth certificate. Because of this, married parents have the option of giving their baby the father's name, the mother's name, or a completely new name, such as a combination of last names or a hyphenated last name.
According to Massachusetts law, when a baby is born to unmarried parents, the name and information about the father of the child does not need to be recorded, unless paternity has been verified. If paternity hasn't been established, the mother of the baby is the parent who will be allowed to name the baby, and can legally give the child her last name, the father's last name, or any other name she wants.
Unmarried fathers can go to court to dispute the last name of their baby, but judges almost never change a child's last name without cause. Fathers will have a better chance disputing a child's last name if the child's paternity is established and on the birth certificate. In order to establish paternity in unmarried cases, both parents must sign a form called the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage, or the father must get a court-ordered paternity test. However, even after this has been done, judges in Massachusetts will still generally honor the mother's wishes in the naming of a child. If parents disagree about the last name of their child, they will also have to go to court. Parents can petition to have a child's name changed on the child's behalf at any time, but in order to do this in Massachusetts, the parent petitioning must have custody of the child, and must also send a petition to the child's other parent. Parents must also present valid reasons for changing a child's name. Valid reasons recognized in court for changing the name of a child include: adoption, which parent pays child support regularly, and a parent's relationship with the child.
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