Changing the Name of a Child Born to Unmarried Parents

“I was never married to the mother, but I want the child to have my last name.  What can I do?”

Tennessee law says that when a child is born to married parents the child will have the father’s surname, unless the parents request otherwise.  However, a child born to parents who are not married will have the mother’s last name unless both parties agree on another name.  An action to establish paternity or chid support will not automatically cause the child’s name to be changed.

If the unmarried parents of a child do not agree on the child’s last name, the father has the option of filing an action with the court to ask for an order changing the child’s last name to match his own.  The court should only order that the child’s surname be changed if the father can show significant proof that the change is in the child’s best interests.  Among the factors that should be considered are:

  • The child’s preference;
  • the change’s potential effect on the child’s relationship with each parent;
  • the length of time the child has had its present surname;
  • the degree of community respect associated with the present and proposed surname; and
  • the difficulty, harassment, or embarrassment that the child may experience from bearing either its present or its proposed surname

Of course, the judge can consider other factors as may be appropriate.  The courts have pointed out, however, that it is not enough to show that the father wants the name changed, and the parent’s desires are not evidence of the child’s best interests.  The important thing to know is that without an agreement between the parties, it can be difficult for a father to compel his child to share his last name.

If you need help with a situation like this, feel free to contact me to discuss your options.