The Court of Appeals in Melbourne v. Taylor[1], analyzed and opined on the legal standard for a parent to change the child’s name after separation and divorce.

The general legal standard for a name change petition by either parents after separation or divorce is the best interests of the child criteria as listed in defined in the legal custody statute § 16-831:

  1. The child’s need for continuity of care and caretakers, and for timely integration into a stable and permanent home, taking into account the differences in the development and the concept of time of children of different ages;
  2. The physical, mental, and emotional health of all individuals involved to the degree that each affects the welfare of the child, the decisive consideration being the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the child;
  3. The quality of the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent, siblings, relatives, and caretakers, including the third-party complainant or movant; and
  4. To the extent feasible, the child’s opinion of his or her own best interests in the matter.

Here though the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court for essentially applying a too strict and outdated standard in denying the mother’s name change petition and by applying and implementing the following criteria:

  • Children ought not to have another name foisted upon them until they reach an age when they are capable of making an intelligent choice in the matter of a name;
  • The bond between a divorced father and his children is tenuous at best and if their name is changed the bond may be weakened if not destroyed; and the name under which a child is registered in school goes far to effect a name change;
  • When a father supports a child, manifests a continuing interest in him, is guilty of no serious misconduct and without unreasonable delay, objects to an attempted change of name, the Court should decide the issue by determining what is for the child’s best interest; and
  • Change of name may not be in the child’s best interest if the effect of such change is to contribute to a further estrangement of the child from a father who exhibits a desire to preserve the parental relationship.

Moreover, the Court of Appeals deemed the above factors as was applied by the trial court as gender-based and that it would not overcome judicial scrutiny as the distinctions are based on stereotypes about the relationship between fathers and their children while not fully take into account bond and the relationship between mother and child.

In short, the Court in reversing the trial court held gender stereotypes are not linked with or grounds to determine the best interests of the child and these distinctions raise significant constitutional issues which will not pass judicial scrutiny.

Refer to our Washington DC Divorce Lawyer page for more information on DC Divorce and the legal elements.

[1] 147 A.3d 1151 (2016)

Categories: Family Law.