By Reynolds H. Blankenship, Jr.
One or both parents of a child may want to legally change the child’s name for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the mother has custody, and the child’s father has been out of the picture for a long time. If the child bears the father’s last name, the mother may want to change the child’s last name to the mother’s last name.
Perhaps the parents were not married when the child was born and the mother had her last name placed on the birth certificate. If the father later gains custody, he may want to have the child’s name changed to match his.
Perhaps a teenage child of divorced parents would like her last name to be a hyphenated combination of both parents’ last names.
Whatever the reason may be, the parent needs to know how to change a child’s name in South Carolina. A parent may file a petition in the Family Court for a minor name change pursuant to South Carolina Code section 15-49-10(B). Pursuant to the statute, the petitioning parent must name the other parent as a party to the lawsuit, unless the other parent’s parental rights have been terminated.
Also pursuant to the statute, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the minor child. This is true even if both parents consent to and desire the change of the child’s name. The guardian is appointed to help the court look out for the child’s best interests.
In deciding whether to grant the name change, the court will consider numerous factors. These include, but are not necessarily limited to:
– the length of time that the child has used the present surname;
– the effect of the change on the preservation and development of the child’s relationship with each parent;
– the identification of the child as part of a family unit;
– the wishes of the parents;
– the stated reason for the proposed change;
– the motive of the parents and the possibility that the use of a different name will cause insecurity or a lack of identity;
– the difficulty, harassment, or embarrassment that the child may experience when the child bears a surname different from the custodial parent;
– the preference of the child if the child is of an age and maturity to express a meaningful preference; and
– the degree of community respect associated with the present and proposed surname.
In my representation of parents requesting or opposing a name change for their child, I have found that our Family Courts give serious weight to how the child identifies himself or herself. This is especially true the older and more mature the child is. In a case of mine involving a girl just four years old, though, the Court found that the name she used to identify herself in private to the guardian ad litem was essentially a decisive factor.
If you want to petition to change your child’s name, or need to oppose a petition filed by your child’s mother or father, you should hire an attorney to represent you. Call me at RHB Law Firm, LLC, (843) 805-4717, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.