Child’s Last Name Changed in Lebanon, TN: In re Izzabella B.

Facts: Father and Mother are the unmarried parents of Child.

Two months after Child’s birth, Father petitioned to establish paternity, enter a parenting plan, set child support, and change Child’s last name to Father’s.

knoxville divorceFather argued Child’s last name should be changed to Father’s largely due to what Father described as a poor reputation associated with Mother’s last name. Regarding the reputation associated with Mother’s last name, Father testified that Mother had a reputation for being a “wild child, a party girl” and that Mother’s last name is associated with her father’s ownership of strip clubs.

After the hearing, the trial court ordered that Child’s last name be changed to Father’s surname. The trial court said the name change was

based, in part, upon a need for future continuity for Child, the fact that Father will be her primary residential parent when she enters public school, the fact that Mother’s history of multiple paramours makes it more likely than not that Mother’s surname will change in the future, and the parties’ respective reputations in the community.

Mother appealed.

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

Tennessee courts will 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 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 explained:

Father testified that Mother had a reputation for being a “wild child, a party girl,” and that Mother’s last name is associated with her father’s ownership of strip clubs. Father stated that he did not have any relatives sharing his last name in the counties in which the parties reside. As discussed previously, the court made numerous findings regarding Mother’s lack of credibility and expressed concerns about Mother’s “moral, physical, mental, and emotional fitness,” which are relevant to [the] “degree of community respect associated with the present and proposed surname” factor. Given the trial court’s extensive findings with respect to Mother’s credibility, fitness, and reputation, we conclude that the facts in the record do not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that the best interests of the Child are served by changing the Child’s last name to that of father.

Accordingly, the name change ordered by the trial court was affirmed.

In re: Izzabella B. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, April 22, 2016).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce 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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