Facts: Mother and Father, who were never married, each filed petitions to establish paternity of Child, establish a parenting plan, and set child support. Father also requested that Child’s last name be changed to his surname or hyphenated.
At trial, Father testified that Child having his surname is “one of the most important things to [him].” He further explained, “It’s my only child. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another one, but it’s important to me for her to have my last name, the last name of the family. She has a huge Corcoran family, and they are all here in Middle Tennessee.”
Mother strongly opposed changing or hyphenating Child’s last name.
After a hearing, the trial court denied Father’s request that Child receive his surname. Specifically, the trial court ruled:
The burden was on the Father to introduce almost like a comparative proof for the Court to make a decision and that would require evidence. There was just nothing other than a request; so that was the reason that was denied. I can’t strain and try to make inferences or anything. The Father just didn’t carry that burden.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Tennessee Code Annotated § 68-3-305(b)(1) provides that a child born to an unmarried mother takes its mother’s surname.
Tennessee courts are not to change a child’s surname unless the change promotes the child’s best interests. Among the criteria for determining whether changing a child’s surname will be in the child’s best interests are: (1) the child’s preference, (2) the change’s potential effect on the child’s relationship with each parent, (3) the length of time the child has had its present surname, (4) the degree of community respect associated with the present and proposed surname, and (5) the difficulty, harassment, or embarrassment that the child may experience from bearing either its present or its proposed surname. The parent seeking to change the child’s surname has the burden of proving that the change will further the child’s best interests.
After reviewing the record, the Court stated:
We agree with the trial court and reiterate that “[a] parent’s wish that a child’s surname be changed is not sufficient to justify such relief” and that a parent’s preference that the child share his or her surname “is not evidence that a name change is in the child’s best interest.”
Father’s proffered reasons to change [Child's] surname do not amount to his carrying the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision on this issue.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.
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