There many reasons why you might want to change your child’s name: you may want your child to share your surname after a divorce; there may be safety concerns about your child retaining their current name; or you might want your family to share the same name following your remarriage.

It is technically easy enough to change your child’s name, however, as Joanne Aggett, Associate in the Family Team at WBW Solicitors in Newton Abbot explains, there are some formalities which it is best to carry out to avoid issues which can arise.

In addition before the UK Deed Poll Office will allow you to change your child’s name, you must ensure you have the written consent of everybody with parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility

A mother automatically has parental responsibility, as does a father who is married to the child’s mother at the time of birth, a father listed on the child’s birth certificate, or a father who marries the child’s mother. Parental responsibility can also be acquired via a parental responsibility agreement or through a successful application to the court.

If consent is given, all those with parental responsibility can ask for the child’s name to be changed. If the child is aged between 16 and 18, they also need to consent to the name change. You may also need to provide documentation to inform all relevant authorities to change the name on their records.

If you cannot obtain consent from all of those with parental responsibility you can apply to the court for a specific issue order under the Children Act 1989. Those with parental responsibility will need to be a party to any court application and will be able to be involved in the court process. If granted, the order will allow you to make the name change but you will have to go to at least one court hearing and there is a fee to be paid.

The case of Dawson v Wearmouth (1999) highlights that a court will not grant a name change lightly; it will only do so if it feels that this would be in the child’s best interests. In exercising its discretion, the court will look to both the long-term and the short-term future of a child as well as factors such as how long the child has been known by its current name, the effect that changing their name or not changing it would have on them, the reasons for the change of name, and, where the child is old enough, the opinion of the child.

Even if a father does not have parental responsibility, it is sensible to obtain his consent before making a name change as he may be able to apply to the court to reverse any change of name. If all those with parental responsibility cannot be found, the application can go ahead, as long as the applying parent has taken reasonable steps to find the absent parent.

Inappropriate names

Your application will be refused if the name is:

  • chosen with the intention of committing fraud;
  • demeaning, offensive or potentially against the law;
  • contains symbols or punctuation marks other than hyphens or apostrophes; or
  • has more than 300 characters in total.

It is also likely to be refused if the name is impossible to pronounce, does not include at least one forename and one surname, or might lead other people to believe you have a rank or title.

How a solicitor can help

Given the possible complications involved in changing a child’s name, it is advisable to seek legal advice before you start the process.

Our highly experienced family law solicitors can make sure you have all the paperwork in order, as well as the necessary consents, and will help guide you through the court process if this is required. They can also ensure that the name you are choosing will be accepted under the guidance available.

For further information, please contact Joanne Aggett in the Family Law Team on 01626 202335 or email joanneaggett@wbw.co.uk. WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton Abbot, Paignton, Torquay, Bovey Tracey, Exeter, Launceston, Exmouth, Sidmouth and Honiton.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.