Attempt to Change Child’s Last Name Fails in Selmer, Tennessee: Millmeyer v. Whitten

FactsMother and Father are the never-married parents of twins.

Two years after their birth, Father petitioned to establish parentage, visitation, and child support. Father also asked the court to change the children’s last name to his last name.

Father argued the children’s surnames should be changed to his because

  • the children are young and now is the time to change their name;
  • he was at the hospital when the children were born and has been involved in their lives for the most part;
  • he has another child with his last name, and it will be embarrassing or confusing for these children to have a different last name;
  • he believes the children will suffer from embarrassment at ball games and other events where their last name will be called out because they have a different name from his;
  • changing their last name will improve the relationship with him; and
  • it’s the local tradition for children to have their father’s last name.

Tennessee name changeThe trial court found the children have started school and are accustomed to their last name being the same as Mother’s. The court also found it’s just as likely for the children to be embarrassed if their name is different from Mother’s.

Father’s name-change request was denied.

Father appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Under Tennessee Code Annotated § 68-3-305(b)(1), absent an agreement, a child’s last name shall be the mother’s last name if the mother is not married when the child is born.

Tennessee courts cannot change a child’s last name unless the change promotes the child’s best interest. Among the criteria for determining whether changing a child’s surname will be in the child’s best interests are:

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

The parent seeking to change the child’s last name must prove that the change will further the child’s best interest. The amount of proof required to justify the change is not insubstantial. A parent’s preference is insufficient.

The Court also found Father’s argument unavailing. It quoted at length from another opinion:

Upon a careful review of the evidence in the case at bar, there appears no proof that a change of the child’s surname will affect a change in the child’s relationship with either parent. The evidence supports a determination that neither the surname of Mother or of Father maintains a higher degree of respect than the other within the community of the child’s residence. Father has not shown that using Father’s surname will be any more beneficial to the child than using the surname of Mother. Inasmuch, Father has failed to demonstrate that the child will encounter difficulties or be subject to harassment or embarrassment if the surname remains that of Mother.

The same is true here.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision not to change the children’s last name.

Millmeyer v. Whitten (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, November 7, 2019).

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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.

One thought on “Attempt to Change Child’s Last Name Fails in Selmer, Tennessee: Millmeyer v. Whitten

  1. Perhaps he shouldn’t have waited until two years after their birth to try to establish parentage but Tennessee law is pretty clear on what it takes to change your name I’m surprised he even found an attorney to take his case.

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