Across society, there is an increasing trend of parents changing their child’s name without following proper process. Most people are unaware that a child’s name can only be officially changed with the consent of both parents, except in very unique circumstances. In order to effect this change, a joint application by both natural parents must be made to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. If joint consent cannot be obtained, the party wishing to change the child’s name needs some specific legal advice.

An application for change of a child’s name must outline detailed reasons for its necessity; for example, that one party has remarried and wants their child to have the new family name. If the child is 12 years or older, they must also agree to the change, unless otherwise approved by a court.

It is important to note that using another name for a child without registering the change is not illegal, but measures can be taken to prevent it from happening, and it is rarely wise to use a “known as” name for a child.

What if my ex partner changes my child’s name?

If one parent begins using a new name for a child, especially on documents such as school reports and doctors’ records, the other parent can apply to the court for a determination on the appropriate name that is to be used (if there are no court orders in place).

For example, in the case of Fooks and McCarthy, the father of the child applied to the court for a decision after the mother had begun using a hyphenated name to refer to the child on his day-care enrolment. The court stated that the only thing to consider in the circumstances was the “welfare of the child.” The child in that case identified with his current surname, and the court determined that there was little utility in changing the name, and that it may be a cause for resentment by the father. The judge therefore ruled that it was in the best interests of the child to keep his current surname.

Accordingly, caution should be employed in initiating court proceedings. A change of a child’s name is a “major long term issue” pursuant to section 4 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). Where the Court has ordered equal shared parental responsibility, both parents must consent to the name change. Any change of name without consent may constitute a contravention of a Court Order.

The Family Court has the power to make decisions that have flow-on consequences under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 (Qld) Part 3 – Change of Name. According to section 17 of the Act, the Magistrates Court may also approve a change of name, provided that the Magistrate is satisfied the name is not a “prohibited name”, and that the change is “in the child’s best interests”.

Deeper issues with change of name

An attempt by a partner to change the name of a child is sometimes indicative of a deeper issue – that they are attempting to assert increased control over the child. Under these circumstances, it is important you obtain appropriate legal advice as soon as possible.

Addressing these problems when they first arise generally allows us to help before the situation escalates – and saves you time and money.

If you have any questions about your family law issue, please contact our office for your free initial consultation with one of our family lawyers.