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How to Change a Child’s Name

A parent, adoptive stepparent, and/or legal guardian, has a right to legally change his or her minor child’s first, middle and/or last (surname) name if changing the child’s name is in the child’s best interest. Nicknames or aliases that are not used for legal purposes do not require court orders.

Note: A family law judge has discretion on whether or not to grant a petition (request) to change a child’s name; the judge will only grant a child’s name change petition if changing the child’s name is in the child’s best interest. The child’s best interest is determined by a family law judge after hearing evidence presented by both the petitioner (requesting person) and the respondent (objecting person(s)), if any.

Common reasons parents petition the court to legally change a child’s name include: 1) a change in name to reflect the child’s mother’s surname after divorce, 2) a change in name to reflect the name of an adopting parent(s)’ surname, 3) a change in name to reflect the name of the child’s stepparent’s surname, and 4) a change in name to protect the child. The child’s first, middle, and/or surname can be changed either completely, or partially, including a hyphen added to the name, so long as the change in name is in the child’s best interest.

Note: A child’s name may not be changed to include numbers, obscenities, symbols, racial epithets, or to promote fraud, create confusion, conceal the child’s location, or avoid creditors. Also, a minor child may not petition the court to change his or her own name without parental consent; however, older children of sufficient maturity may be allowed to address the court concerning his or her desire to have his or her name changed.

The Child Name Change Process

When parents agree to change their child's name they may jointly file a petition for child name change. If the family law judge agrees to the name change the judge will grant an order to have the child’s name changed to reflect the new requested name. The legal process is relatively simple and fast when both parents agree to change their child’s name.

Note: Parents who have had their parental rights terminated in either a juvenile dependency action or a stepparent adoption case do not have the right to object to a parent’s petition to change the name of a minor child.

When only one parent agrees to a child’s name change, either because the other parent objects to the name change, or because the other parent can not be found, the process to change a child’s name is more complicated.

To legally change a child’s name without the permission of the other parent the petitioning parent must timely notify the other parent of his or her request to legally change their child's name. This means that the petitioning parent must legally inform the other parent, at least thirty (30) days before the hearing on the name change petition, of the time, place, and details of the request, including the responding parent’s right to object to the name change request. Legal forms are available, and required, to accomplish legal notice in a petition for child's name change.

Legal Notice Requirements

California law requires that unless both parents agree in writing, the non-petitioning parent (the respondent) must be served with a copy of the petition for child name change. If the respondent resides in California, he or she must be personally handed a copy of the petition by a third party not involved in the dispute; if he or she resides out of California, he or she can be served by registered mail, return receipt requested.

A parent has a right to object to a child’s name change petition. When the responding parent objects both parents must attend court, or have a lawyer attend court on their behalf, for a court decision. When the parents agree to the name child name change request the parents might be able to obtain the court’s order desired with little, or no, court appearance.

Note: A guardian has the same rights to change his or her ward’s (child’s) name; however, when a guardian petitions the court to change a child’s name there are usually two persons to whom the guardian must give notice about the proposed name change. Guardians must bring their Letters of Guardianship to court.

Other Child Name Change Requirements

A Petition for Name Change of a Child must be filed in the Superior Court of the county where the child lives. The child subject to the proposed name change may not be under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Correction, in state prison, on parole, or required to register as a sex offender. The petition must include a reasons for the name change as well as proof that the child’s proposed name was published in an approved newspaper for at least four weeks. The Clerk of the Court in the county where the child’s name will be changed will have a list of approved newspapers for this purpose.

Note: For security reasons, participants in a state’s witness protection program, as well as victims of domestic violence, may request that the court not require the publication of the proposed child name change.

The Decree of Name Change

If the judge approves the Petition for Change of Name, he or she will sign a Decree of Name Change. After the Decree of Name Change is signed by the family law judge a certified copy of the order changing the child’s name may be ordered from the Clerk of Family Court.  The certified copy can be used to change a child’s name on legal documents, including a birth certificate, social security card, passport, driver’s license, school records, credit cards, bank accounts, wills, trust, contract, tax records, power of attorney, and more.

To learn more about how to change a child’s name, including the required forms, arguments in support of, or opposition to, a proposed name change, and more, contact our divorce and family law attorneys today for a free consultation. Call today!

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How to Change a Child's Name in California