Pennsylvania Superior Court Denies Father’s Petition To Change His Son’s Last Name To Match His Own
January 3, 2016
In a November 2015 binding opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court entered an order denying father’s request to change his three year old son’s last name to match his own. The Superior Court also denied father’s alternative request to have his son’s last name hyphenated, so that both mother’s last name and father’s last name was held by the child.
In support of father’s request, father presented evidence that father and mother shared legal and physical custody. Additionally, the child had only one sibling, a half-sister, who shared father’s last name. Father provided that his last name is known through the community because he coaches youth sports and intends to coach his son. Father also provided that his only son should be able to carry on his family name, and that the child may be “embarrassed” or “bullied” if the child had a different last name than father.
In its analysis, the Court noted that the party requesting the name change has the burden to prove that the name change would be in the child’s best interest. Additionally, general considerations should also include the bonds between the parent and the child, social stigma or respect afforded to a particular name, and when the child is of appropriate age, whether the child understands the significance of the name change.
The court also considered the law of New Jersey and New York. New Jersey considers several factors, including the length of time the child has used a given surname, potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort of using a different last name, the child’s preference, parental misconduct or neglect, degree of community respect for a certain name, whether the mother has changed or intends to change her name, and whether the child has strong relationships with any siblings. In New York, the court also has a several factor test including the child’s preference, the last name of the custodial parent, the last name of the child’s siblings, whether the child is already known by a last name in the community, the misconduct of a parent, harassment a child has experienced with a particular last name.
In review of the Pennsylvania factors, the Court found that it was not in the child’s best interest to change his last name or hyphenate the last name. Although father referenced the social stigma associated with having a different last name, the Court acknowledged the growing prevalence of blended families and the evolving definition of family structure.
The Court found that father primarily attempted to further his own desires to have his son “carry on” his family name. Thus, father’s request was denied.