What’s in a name?
A recent study by Aviva, the insurance company found that 49% of adults in the UK who live with a spouse or partner or children have had at least one past relationship which they regarded as committed either by marriage or cohabitation. Nearly a third of families now include a stepchild from a previous relationship and in 2014 the Office for National Statistics reported that there were 2 million lone parents with dependent children living in the UK.

Increasingly, parents ask if it is possible to change a child’s name following the breakdown of a relationship and loss of contact between a father and child, remarriage or when a subsequent relationship becomes long term.

Legally a child’s name can be changed easily by deed poll or change of name deed providing that everyone with parental responsibility for the child consents.   This is necessary even where the parents of the child have separated, divorced and remarried. Once a child turns 16 they can apply for their own deed poll and parental responsibility is no longer required. 

Parental responsibility is the legal term that defines who has the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities for a child under the age of 16.  The mother of a child automatically acquires parental responsibility at the time of birth.   A father also automatically acquires parental responsibility at the time of the child’s birth if he is married to the mother of the child at the time or subsequently marries the mother.   Since 1st December 2003   an unmarried father will acquire parental responsibility if he is named or is later entered on the child’s birth certificate.

In circumstances where the mother has sole parental responsibility she is not required to seek the consent of the father and it is only necessary for her to complete a declaration confirming her legal right to change her child’s name and confirm that she is not required to seek the consent of any other person. 
Consent to change a child’s name can be by agreement between the parents and evidenced by a letter from the parent giving permission for the name to be changed. In the absence of consent it is necessary to apply to the court for permission.  This is done by making an application under the Children’s Act 1989 for a s8 Specific Issue Order.   

A court will consider if it will be in the child’s best interests to allow the name change.  The level of commitment of the non-consenting father to the child will also be taken into consideration as will the frequency and quality of contact and involvement between the father and child to determine whether the name link between the father and the child can be broken. 

Older children of secondary school age (ie 11 years and over) will have their views taken into consideration to determine if the name change sought should be allowed. 

GC Solicitors can advise and assist you should you be considering changing your child’s name.

Claire Ballard