Missing Procedural Steps Trip Up Maryland Father’s Effort to Change His Child’s Name

The great English poet and playwright William Shakespeare asked, in his play Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While The Bard’s implication is that a name, by itself, means very little, it can be a very important thing in some family law cases. Whether you are involved in a name change contest or some other family law matter, you have certain rights, which your Maryland family law attorney can help you protect. In a recent case offering an example, a mother was able to get an order changing her son’s name reversed because the trial court didn’t follow the proper procedure.

Anne Marie gave birth to a son on Oct. 25, 2011. Anne Marie was not married. The father was not present at the birth, and no father was listed on the birth certificate. By December, Anne Marie filed a court action seeking genetic testing to establish paternity. Paternity was established the following May, and issues of custody, visitation, and child support were worked out.

In January 2014, the father asked the trial court to alter the child’s name. The son’s last name was that of the mother. The father requested that the court change the child’s last name from that of the mother to his last name. The trial court did not immediately rule on the request.

Later, the parents were back before the court on an issue of modification of visitation. At the end of that visitation request hearing, the trial judge announced that she was changing the child’s name. After getting a suggestion from the father, the judge changed the child’s last name to a hyphenated combination of the mother’s last and the father’s last name.

The mother appealed and won. The problem was that Maryland sets up a very specific protocol for name changes, excluding those occurring as a result of adoption or divorce. For all other name changes, a party must file a court petition asking for the name change. Rule 15-901 specifies all of the details that must be included in this petition in order for the court to consider a name change. The court clerk must issue a notice regarding the proposed name change. The rule also says that, unless the trial judge orders otherwise, the name change must “be published one time in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the action was filed.”

In this case, the petition didn’t meet the rule’s standards, since there was no notice and there was no newspaper publication. There also wasn’t a sufficient finding regarding the best interests of the child when it came to the name change issue. The trial judge only stated that, since the man had been identified and adjudged as the child’s father, the child “should have the father’s surname.” The judge did not state that altering the surname to reflect the father’s paternity was in the child’s best interests.

Whether your case is one regarding child custody, visitation, child support, or changing the name of your child, it is important to give yourself a good chance for success. Knowledgeable Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping clients pursue successful outcomes for many years. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Obtaining a Continuance in Your Maryland Child Custody Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 29, 2017

Maryland Mother’s Claims of Misrepresentation Not Enough to Lead Court to Order Paternity Testing, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 28, 2017

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