Changing Your Kids' Last Names in a Divorce

By Andrew Lu on January 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What's in a name? After a contentious divorce, your married last name may be a painful reminder of a relationship you'd rather forget. That's why you may want to change your kids' last names as well.

If you have custody of your children, and have changed your last name, it may make sense to change your children's names to match.

But unlike changing your own name, it can be more complicated to change your children's last names, as your former spouse may get to have a say in the matter. Here are some tips and insights about changing your child's name following a divorce:

  1. Father knows best, at least in some courts. The traditional (and perhaps outdated) view used by some courts is that "father knows best." What this means is that the children's father has the right to insist that the child continue to use the father's last name as long the father continues to fulfill his duties as a parent.
  2. Mother's maiden name may be used if it's in the child's best interests. Some courts are starting to move away from the traditional view and ordering a child's name to be changed to the mother's maiden name when it is clear that doing so is in the best interests of the child. This is true even when the father insists on the child keeping his last name and continues to perform his parenting duties. Typically, courts will consider a number of factors in making this decision such as the age of the child, the strength of the mother-child relationship, how long the child has used the father's name, any negative impacts that the child would suffer if the name change was ordered, and any benefits to changing the name.
  3. Adoption by a stepparent may make it easier. If you are planning on getting remarried and your new spouse plans a stepparent adoption, part of that adoption process can be a name change for the child.

Going through a divorce is a difficult process and there are many different considerations you will need to think of. Even something as simple as changing your child's last name can be a pain-staking legal process. That's why you may want to work with an experienced family law attorney to guide you through it.

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