Can I change my child’s surname after divorce?

The decision to change a child’s surname can arise for various reasons, including parental separation or remarriage. However, altering a child’s surname is a legal matter that requires careful consideration, particularly when only one parent seeks the change. Understanding the legal landscape surrounding a parent’s request to change their child’s surname is crucial for navigating this complex process. In this article, we look at the specific considerations and challenges when seeking to change a child’s surname.

The law regarding changing a child’s surname is governed by Section 13 of the Children Act 1989, which states: “no person may cause the child to be known by a new surname without either the written consent of every person who has parental responsibility for the child or the leave of the court.”

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility refers to the legal rights, duties, powers, and responsibilities that parents have towards their children. It encompasses the authority to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, welfare, and development. Mothers automatically obtain parental responsibility; however, a father will only acquire it if they are married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth, named on the birth certificate, or through a court order.

What is the process of changing a child’s name?

As stated above, the consent of each person with parental responsibility is necessary to change the name of any child who is under 16 years of age. This can be done via deed poll, which then allows official documents and records to be changed. A deed poll certificate proves the change of name and overrides the name on the child’s birth certificate.

What can I do if my ex refuses to consent to my child changing their name?

If your ex is adamant that you cannot change your child’s surname, then you can apply to the court for a specific issue order. You would need to show, in accordance with the welfare checklist, that such a change would be in the child’s best interests. It is a well-known fact that the court deems a child’s surname an intrinsic part of their identity, and so this type of application is not taken lightly.

If the court agrees to the change, then you can proceed to change the child’s surname via deed poll.

Can I double-barrel my child’s surname without agreement from the other parent?

Double barrelling a child’s surname typically requires the agreement of both parents who have parental responsibility. The consent of the other parent is generally necessary for a legal change or modification of a child’s surname.

If both parents agree to double-barrel the child’s surname, the process can be relatively straightforward. However, if the other parent does not provide consent or is uncooperative, seeking a legal resolution may be necessary.

What can I do if the other parent with parental responsibility is absent from the child’s life?

If the other parent’s whereabouts are unknown, then it may be possible to change a child’s surname via deed poll without obtaining their consent, providing you can show you have taken reasonable steps to establish contact. That said, restrictions on using the change of name could apply if it has been carried out without the consent of the other parent holding parental responsibility, and without the permission of the court. The passport office can be particularly strict here.

If the other parent is absent from the child’s life, the preferable approach for someone wishing to change their child’s surname is to apply to court. In such circumstances, they are likely to have a very strong case, depending on the duration of absence.

Can I change my child’s surname if the other parent does not have parental responsibility?

You may be able to change your child’s surname if the other parent does not have parental responsibility, because it may give you more flexibility to make decisions regarding your child’s name. Although it is reasonable to expect that the other parent would be contacted prior to any name change taking place.

If the child’s name has already been changed, a father without parental responsibility would need to apply to court for a specific issue order to have the change reversed.

Can I amend my child’s birth certificate?

It is extremely unlikely that a child’s birth certificate would be amended following a deed poll change because the certificate is an important historical document, correct at the time of birth. But there are certain circumstances when the birth certificate can be altered, and the child’s name changed. These are:

  • Amending a child’s first name – this can be changed if the parents gave the child a different first name and the birth was registered in the past 12 months. They will need to prove that the child was baptised under a different name, or the different name was regularly used. A child’s first name can only be changed once. If your child is eligible, you should contact the local register office and ask for the necessary forms.
  • Amending a child’s surname – this can be changed by re-registering the child’s birth, although this can only be done in certain circumstances. These are:
    • To record the child’s biological father on the birth record
    • To record the female partner of the child’s mother on the birth record if she is the legal parent and not originally recorded
    • Following the marriage of the child’s parents, if they were not married at the time of the child’s birth
    • Following the civil partnership of the legal parents if they were not civil partners at the time of the child’s birth
    • After a court has issued a declaration of parentage

A child’s surname can hold significant importance in shaping their identity. It serves as a fundamental part of their personal and family history, connecting them to their roots and heritage. Changing a child’s surname can affect their self-identity and may require them to navigate questions of personal and family identity. Therefore, if you are considering a name change, it is important to recognise the significance of your child’s surname in relation to who they are.


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