In general, an unmarried mother has the authority to place a newborn’s last name on a birth certificate. This can lead to bitter disputes between unmarried parents if the father disagrees with the child’s registered last name. The father must first establish paternity of the child. Then, he has two avenues to obtain a name change. If he and the mother agree, they can request that the name be formally changed. If the mother does not agree, however, the father must petition the court, and is limited to requesting that the child’s last name be hyphenated. The judge will decide if the name change is in the child’s best interest.
Given the increase in births to unmarried parents, this issue has become more common in my family law practice. Parents, particularly fathers, should maintain contact throughout the pregnancy and petition the court to establish their paternity as soon as possible. Not only does a petition address naming issues, but also should address the legal custody and physical placement of the child. Uncertainty in these areas creates nothing but future problems. Parents with questions or concerns of this nature should contact me for a consultation.