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NOVA Legal Beat: Father Wants to Change Child’s Last Name

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Mathew B. Tully of Tully Rinckey PLLC.

Q. I am a single mother who, up until recently, had been getting along well with my child’s father. Recently he has started talking more and more about changing our child’s last name to his. I’m very lukewarm to the idea and want to know how he might change our son’s name.

A. Changing a child’s name requires a court order, even in cases where there is agreement. Either parent can petition the court on the child’s behalf. If the other parent objects, the court will hold a hearing on the matter. The standard of proof required is a showing that the name change is in the best interest of the child.

So how does the court determine if the change is in the best interest of the child when the parents are at loggerheads? There are four main factors considered by the court: (1) whether the objecting parent had abandoned ordinary parent-child ties; (2) the parent has engaged in conduct that would embarrass the child in continuing to use the name; (3) the child will suffer detriment by continuing to bear the name; and (4) the child desires for the name to be changed.

Saving the child or a parent from a minor inconvenience or embarrassment are not sufficient reasons for the change. When it comes to name changes, the assistance of an attorney can be invaluable in protecting your child’s best interests.

Q. My marriage has been on the rocks for a while and things don’t look like they are getting any better. We have two small children and while I work, I don’t make anywhere near as much as my husband. There is no way I could afford to continue living in this area on my salary alone. What am I to do?

A. You’ve identified one reason why some couples stay together. Financial uncertainty is a big reason why unhappy couples stay together. However, there are mechanisms in place to allow you to support yourself and your children post divorce. You shouldn’t sacrifice your happiness and well-being just because of uncertainty.

If you and your husband separate, you will have to wait one year before either of you can file for divorce. The divorce process entails dividing assets, custody/visitation of the children, and support for you and/or your children. Child support is based on your incomes and expenses and spousal support is based on financial need. An attorney will be able to give you estimates on what you can expect to be awarded from a court.

If the prospect of waiting one year to get support sounds daunting, you can file immediately after separation for support and custody in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. For those in need of immediate support, this is the best option unless the two of you can voluntarily reach an agreement on support. A written separation agreement can often be the cheapest and most efficient way to resolve the issues that would otherwise be addressed in the divorce action. Figuring out what option works best for you can be one of the most important steps in providing for you and your children.

 Mathew B. Tully is the founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. Located in Arlington, Va. and Washington, D.C., Tully Rinckey PLLC’s attorneys practice criminal defense, matrimonial and family law, federal employment law, and military law. To speak with an attorney, call 703-525-4700 or to learn more visit

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