Is it possible to change a child’s name?

A child’s name must be registered at the local registry office within 42 days of his or her birth according to the Births & Deaths Registration Act 1953 (as amended). But what happens when you want to change that child’s name?  As an adult you can simply use a new name, but as a child the situation is more complicated.

Where the parents are married, both have the power and obligation to register their child’s name. If the parents are unmarried, then only the mother has this authority.  This is a point of importance to unmarried fathers, who may find that they are not named on the birth certificate, have no choice over the names chosen, and worse still, do not gain parental responsibility as a result.

It is often upon separation or re-marriage that parents really consider the surnames of their children, often thinking that it would be better if all children within the family had the same surname or that it should match their own. In fact, seeking a change of name on the basis that the child’s name differs from yours or their siblings does not generally carry much weight.

So what is considered?

First and foremost, the court must consider the welfare of the child having regard to the welfare checklist set out in s 1(3) of the Children Act.  This includes such matters as their age and understanding, sex, background and characteristics, any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering and the range of powers available to the court.

Changes of circumstance for the child will be relevant since the original registration, and of course the court will consider the reasons for the original registration.

In circumstances where the mother alone had control over registration, father’s degree of commitment, and the quality of contact will be relevant.

What can you do?

It all comes down to who has parental responsibility.  Where only one person has parental responsibility, that person can unilaterally change their child’s name. However, bear in mind as a mother in that position, that fathers, regardless of whether they have parental responsibility, have the right to apply to the court to prohibit you from taking that action.

Where there are two or more people with parental responsibility, both parties must agree to the name change and written consent should be obtained.

In the absence of consent being provided, it will be necessary to make an application to the court for a specific issue order seeking to change your child’s name.  If you would like further advice on this subject, or you would like us to represent you on an application of this nature, contact Shelley Cook on 023 9267 5530 or email scook@a2law.co.uk.