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Can I change my child's surname after separation?

After separating from their partners, many parents ask about the process of applying to change their child's surname, the reasons behind this varying. Some parents simply wish their child's name to reflect both of their parents whilst others for reasons as extreme as denouncing a parties' parenthood due to a history of family violence.

Whatever the reason, the process involves either a joint application (by both parents) to Births, Deaths, and Marriages or in the event there is no agreement, an application to the Family or Federal Circuit Court.

What do I need to consider before making a Court Application?

The Court's paramount consideration is whether the proposed name change is in the best interests of the child. In deciding this, the Court will generally consider the following factors:

  1. Any possible confusion of identity;
  2. The short and long-term effects of a name change;
  3. The effect on the child's relationship with the parent they presently share a surname with;
  4. Any embarrassment caused to the child if their surname is different from the parent they no longer share a surname with;
  5. Whether the child's name has been changed before and the effect of frequent or random changes of name;
  6. The past and present extent of time and contact of the child with the parent they presently share a surname with and the extent to which the child identifies with that parent.

It is often the case that parents will compromise, and instead of running competing applications before the Court they will choose to propose a hyphenated surname that represents both parents involvement in the child's life.

Does my child have a say?

If a child expresses the view that they would like to keep their surname as is, this is generally considered a higher priority than the views and wishes of the child's parents (Fooks & McCarthy [1993] FamCA 117).

This article was written by Associate Ashleigh Barry and co-authored by Law Cadet, Laura Hope. 

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