A divided First Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a trial court to change a child’s name to include the father’s surname as part of the child’s name. The case is significant because the majority held that the reasons advanced by the father were legally insufficient to warrant a name change. “Legally insufficient” has several meanings, but the one employed here was that there was no more “than a mere scintilla” of evidence favoring a name change. In re A.E.M., No. 01-14-00123-CV (Dec. 16, 2014).*
|Need help with an appeal? Has the other side appealed? Contact me for a free consultation.|
Name Change Evidence
The father sought a name change for three reasons:
- He had a daughter who had his last name and he wanted his children to have the same last name.
- He wanted the child to have his last name so there would be someone to carry on his family name.
- He wanted the child to have his name in case the child joined the military.
The mother opposed a name change because:
- Her last name held respect in the community because her father had run a business for 33 years in the small town where she lived.
- She testified that the father had indicated he was attending visitation periods only in an attempt to get their son’s last name changed to his.
A Mere Scintilla
The key to the majority decision was its statement that a name change is permitted only when it is in the child’s best interest.
Accordingly, the only facts relevant to our review of the trial court’s determination are the facts concerning the child’s best interest; the interests of the parents are not relevant.
The court gave slight significance to the father’s claim that including the father’s surname in the child’s name would more strongly associate that child “with a family unit” because the father had visitation rights with his prior child who bore his surname and would have visitation rights to this child as well. This is the point on which the dissent disagreed: The dissent would have found this evidence legally sufficient for the name change. Otherwise, the father presented no evidence that changing the child’s name would be in the child’s best interest.
Name Change Takeaway
What do we learn from this decision?
- If a father has custody of one child from a prior relationship and will have custody of a second child from a current relationship, then perhaps wanting the children to have the same last name would be legally sufficient evidence for a name change.
- Wanting a child to carry on one’s last name is legally insufficient evidence for a name change.
- Wanting a child to have the father’s last name in the event that the child enters the military is legally insufficient evidence for a name change.