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Changing Children’s Name’s

This section will enable you to determine whether you have sole parental responsibility or joint parental responsibility. If you have sole parental responsibility, only you need to consent to your child’s name change. If you have joint parental responsibility, you and the other person with parental responsibility (usually the father) need to consent to your child’s name change.
Throughout the United Kingdom, a mother is automatically given parental responsibility. However, the acquisition of parental responsibility by fathers varies according to where the child resides:

England or Wales

If the father was married to the mother when their child was born, or marries the mother at any time subsequent to birth, the father has parental responsibility. Therefore, if the father was not married to the mother at birth and has not married the mother subsequent to birth, he does not have parental responsibility and his consent is not required to change his child’s name because the mother has sole parental responsibility.
Scotland

If the father was married to the mother when their child was conceived, or marries the mother at any time subsequent to conception, the father has parental responsibility. Therefore, if the father was not married to the mother at conception and has not married the mother subsequent to conception, he does not have parental responsibility and his consent is not required to change his child’s name because the mother has sole parental responsibility.

Northern Ireland

If the father was married to the mother when their child was born, or is registered as the father, the father has parental responsibility. Therefore, if the father was not married to the mother at birth and he is not registered as the father, he does not have parental responsibility and his consent is not required to change his child’s name because the mother has sole parental responsibility.

Outside the United Kingdom

The laws of the UK country of birth apply.
If a father acquires parental responsibility, his consent is also required to change his child’s name because he has joint parental responsibility with the mother. This is the case even if the parents have subsequently separated, divorced or remarried and if the father has no contact whatsoever with the child.

If a father, who has parental responsibility and who no longer lives with the mother and child, refuses to give his consent to change his child’s name, the only course of action for the mother to apply to the courts for leave (permission) to change the child’s name. A court will give permission if it believes it will be in the child’s best interests to allow the name change. The court will take into account the degree of commitment of the father to the child and the quality of contact between the father and child to determine whether the link with the father (by shared surname) can be broken. An older child’s views will also be important in deciding whether the name change should be allowed.
Acquisition of parental responsibility by unmarried fathers

Unmarried fathers can acquire parental responsibility by:

    • Subsequent marriage to the mother (England, Wales and Scotland only).
    • Being awarded parental responsibility by a court.
    • A formal documented agreement with the mother in the manner prescribed by law.
    • Being granted a Residence Order by a court.
    • Being appointed Guardian by a court.
    • Being registered as the child’s father (Northern Ireland only).

If an unmarried father acquires parental responsibility, his consent would be required, in addition to the mother’s consent, to change their child’s name.
Acquisition of parental responsibility by step-fathers

Step-fathers can acquire parental responsibility by:

      • Being granted a Residence Order by a court.
      • Being appointed Guardian by a court.
      • Adopting the child.

If a step-father acquires parental responsibility, his consent would be required, in addition to anyone else who has parental responsibility, to change the child’s name e.g. the mother and maybe the natural father.

How parental responsibility is lost

Parental responsibility is only lost when:

    • The child reaches 18 years of age (16 in Scotland).
    • If it is brought to an end on application to a court by the person having it.
    • With the permission of the court on the application of the child.
    • If another person adopts the child.
    • If an order granting it is terminated by the court.
    • If a person with parental responsibility dies.

Please note, parental responsibility can be limited by Care Orders, Contact Orders or Prohibited Steps Orders.

There have been a few successful legal actions in England where an unmarried father without parental responsibility, has obtained a court order to have his child’s change of surname reversed (but not any forename changes). In each case, the mother had changed her child’s surname from the father’s surname to her surname. The court ordered that the child’s surname be changed back to the father’s surname. The significant factor taken into account by the courts was that the courts recognised the importance of maintaining a link with the father. By sharing the same surname with the child, the father’s biological link is recognised. The courts also took into account the degree of commitment of the father to the child and the quality of contact between the father and child. In these successful cases, there was frequent contact with the child by the father. This does mean, however, that if the father does not have frequent contact with his child, it is highly unlikely that he will be successful in obtaining an order to reverse a change of surname because there is no link to break.
You are therefore advised that if you change your child’s surname and the father has frequent contact with your child, he may be able to have the change of name reversed (if he has the inclination, time and money to go through the court process). The only way to eliminate the risk of the change of surname being reversed is to apply to the courts for leave (permission) to change the child’s name without the consent of the father.

Changing a child’s name without the consent of an absent father who has parental responsibility

It may be possible for a parent who has custody of a child to change the child’s name by Deed Poll without the other parent’s consent if the other parent’s whereabouts is not known. Usually, this situation arises where a mother wishes to change the surname of her child because the child has the father’s surname and the father is now absent through separation or divorce. The mother may have entered into a new relationship (and is using her new partner’s surname) or has reverted to using her maiden name.
In this situation, the mother must write a letter of consent and include information about what reasonable measures she has taken to contact the absent father – for example, writing to the father’s last known address and contacting relatives and friends of the father etc (see Letter 4 on the example letters of consent page). Although we will issue a Deed Poll upon receipt of a satisfactory letter of consent, there is a risk, that the father may in the future contest the change of name through the courts. However, a court will only reverse the change of name if it believes it is in the best interests of the child to do so. The court will take into account the degree of commitment of the father to the child and the quality of contact between the father and child. Therefore, if the father is voluntarily absent for a prolonged period of time (say for more than a year), the court is very unlikely to support a father’s application to have a name change reversed. Furthermore, the father’s chances are further reduced if the child also wishes to change their name, particularly an adolescent child who has an understanding of the significance of changing their name.

Please note that the issue of a Deed Poll by us – where one of the parents is absent and not contactable – is no guarantee that all official record holders, e.g. school, doctor, passport office etc, will change your child’s name records. This is because official holders of records should satisfy for themselves that all those with parental responsibility have consented to the child’s name change. If the consent of an absent and not contactable parent is not obtained, an official record holder can refuse to change a child’s name records. Our experience is that this rarely happens. However, it is more likely that a child’s name change will be refused if the letter of consent does not contain sufficient information to demonstrate that reasonable attempts have been made to contact the absent parent. It may be that you are asked to provide evidence of the attempts you have made to contact the absent parent or are asked for a solicitor’s letter confirming that the absent parent cannot be traced.
The only way to guarantee that a Deed Poll will be effective is to obtain a court order permitting the parent with custody to change their child’s name without the consent of the absent parent. Obtaining a court order is not difficult so do not be put off from doing what you think will be a daunting experience. Simply click on this link to find you nearest court (in England and Wales). Then telephone the court and ask to speak with the family section. Ask the family section to send you an application form and leaflets to enable you to obtain permission of the court to change your child’s name without the consent of the father. The leaflets will explain the procedure, which you will see is quite straight forward – and well worth doing to get your child’s name changed.

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