Denial of Child’s Surname Change Affirmed in Franklin: In re Jacob H.C.

Facts: Months after Child was born out of wedlock, Mother filed a petition to establish paternity and set child support. Father counter-petitioned for certain relief, including his request that Child’s last name be changed.

The juvenile court judge denied Father’s request that Child’s surname be changed. Specifically, the trial court held there was “a degree of community respect associated with the child’s present name” based on Child’s maternal grandfather’s involvement for many years in a number of civic endeavors as well as his association with the Brentwood Police Department, and that, for that reason, it was in Child’s best interest to keep his Mother’s surname.

Father appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Father argued that the court should have ordered Child’s name to either be changed to Father’s or hyphenated for two reasons: (1) Father’s concern that Mother may remarry and change her name, thereby causing embarrassment to Child, and (2) to give Father a “concrete bond” with Child.

Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 68-3-305(b)(1)(A), a child born out of wedlock carries the surname of the mother. The child’s surname is not changed following a legitimation or paternity proceeding unless the name change is ordered by the court.

A court should not 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 the child may experience from bearing either its present or 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.

Father’s first argument — that Child may be embarrassed in the future if Mother remarries and changes her last name — was found to be speculative and insufficient to support a holding that Child would experience embarrassment or difficulty if Child’s name were not changed.

As for Father’s second argument, the Court commented:

The other evidence cited by Father in support of his argument relative to the court’s failure to change [Child’s] surname consists largely of Father’s testimony of efforts he asserts Mother made to keep him from forming a bond with [Child], beginning in the hospital when [Child] was born. The testimony cited does not address any of the [above-cited] factors but, more importantly, do not show that changing [Child’s] surname would be in his best interest.

Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment denying Father’s request to change Child’s last name was affirmed.

In re Jacob H.C. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, November 20, 2013).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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