How easily can you change your child’s surname? The New Jersey Supreme Court recently answered this question.
In the case of Emma v. Evans, the parties had two children who were given their father’s surname, “Emma”, at birth. The parties divorced and the mother was named primary residential parent of the children. After the divorce, the mother began hyphenating the children’s names on medical and school records as “Evans-Emma.” She then asked a court to allow her to change the children’s surname from Emma to her last name, Evans.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that in order to change a child’s surname, a “best interests of the child” standard applies. Many factors are taken into account when changing a child’s surname, including the length of time the child has used the surname, identification of the child with a particular family unit, the potential anxiety or embarrassment which may result from the name change, the child’s preference, etc.
This “best interests of the child” standard represents a change in the law. Previously, although Courts still used the “best interests of the child” standard in surname disputes, the primary custodial parent was entitled to a presumption that his or her choice of name was in the best interests of the child. Emma v. Evans removed that presumption.