Child’s Name Change Reversed in Nashville, Tennessee Parenting Dispute: In re McKenzie Z.

changing last name in TennesseeFacts: Child was born to Mother in 2008. When child was five years old, Mother notified Father that he might be Child’s father. Mother believed another man was Child’s father until paternity testing excluded him.

Father gradually exercised parenting time with Child. Their relationship progressed smoothly until Mother and Father had a dispute over the logistics of an overnight visit. After that, Mother refused to allow unsupervised visitation.

Father petitioned to establish parentage and set a parenting schedule. He also asked to change Child’s surname to a hyphenated version of both Father’s and Mother’s surnames.

Regarding changing Child’s last name, the proof presented by Father consisted of only this testimony:

Q:  And in your petition, did you ask that the child be given your last name?
A:  I did.
Q:  And are you wanting her to have your last name?
A.  Absolutely.

After hearing the proof, the trial court named Mother the primary residential parent and awarded both parents equal parenting time. The court also found that Father proved that it was in Child’s best interest to have her last name changed to a hyphenated version of both parents’ surnames.

Mother appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

Under Tennessee Code Annotated § 68-3-305(b)(1), the child of an unmarried mother receives the mother’s surname unless both parents request otherwise.

Later paternity proceedings do not automatically require a name change. Instead, the party seeking a name change must prove it to be in the child’s best interests. Courts must consider these factors:

  • the child’s preference;
  • the change’s potential effect on the child’s relationship with each parent;
  • the time the child has had its present surname:
  • community respect associated with the present and proposed surname; and
  • the difficulty, harassment, or embarrassment that the child may experience from bearing either its present or its proposed surname.

These factors are not exhaustive and, given the facts of a particular case, not all the factors may be relevant.

The amount of proof required to obtain a name change is not insubstantial. A father’s mere preference or wish that a child share his surname is not enough.

The court found that Father’s proof was insufficient:

A child’s surname should not be changed in the absence of proof that the changes in the child’s best interest. Because we conclude Father failed to meet his burden of proof, we vacate that portion of the court’s order directing that [Child’s] surname be changed.

With the name change reversed, Child will revert to sharing Mother’s last name.

In re McKenzie Z. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, March 27, 2018).

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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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