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Wisconsin Family Law Articles

Name Changes After Divorce: You and Your Child

When family members go through divorce, it can mean enduring changes to some of the most fundamental aspects of their lives. Parents and children find themselves in different living environments, in new jobs and schools and with a new sense of identity. After figuring out child custody, one issue which a parent and child may contemplate after divorce is whether or not to legally change their names.

Parent Name Change

For a parent, deciding to go back to a former name can be a difficult decision when their children have their spouse's last name. In some cases, a parent may choose to keep their married name in order to have the same last name as their children. However, under other circumstances, having different names may not be an issue for the parent or the child.

If you do decide that a name change is the right choice for you, the simplest way to make this change is by asking the divorce court to make it part of the divorce. The divorce court is permitted to allow a spouse to revert to any of their former legal names during the process. If you wait until after the divorce is final, you will have to incur the expense of pursuing the change through a separate legal proceeding.

Child Name Change

The complexity in changing a minor's name will depend on the degree of parental agreement and involvement in the decision.  If both parents consent, changing a child’s name is a relatively simple process. However, this is not the usual scenario following divorce. Instead, a parent seeking a name change is more likely to face the decision without the consent or participation of the other parent.

Without Consent

In Wisconsin, when a child is under the age of 14, a parent may request that the child’s surname be changed.  The requesting parent has to notify the other parent and give them an opportunity to respond.  If the other parent objects, the court can still consider the request.  However, the court will only grant the name change if it determines that the modification is in the best interest of the child.  The court will look to numerous factors to evaluate whether changing the child’s name is in their best interest such as how long the child has had their name, what the child wants (if they are old enough to express their preference), and changes to the family.  The court may also grant the request if the petitioning parent can show the non-consenting parent’s parental right have been terminated or that they have sole custody and the other parent has not accepted parental responsibility.

Without Objection or Consent

When one parent has not objected or consented, the court may be able to grant the request for a name change provided the requesting parent can show that the other parent was properly served and then failed to attend the hearing on the matter. If the non-petitioning parent cannot be located, the petitioning parent must demonstrate that they made a reasonable attempt to find and provide notice to them, but after using reasonable diligence, were unsuccessful.

Deciding to change your or your child’s name following a divorce can a difficult decision. Children often see themselves as being part of both of their parents. If your former partner is still involved in your child’s life, trying to change their name could be perceived by your child as you rejecting the part of them that comes from the other parent. Your child may also view your name change as a way of putting distance between you and your former partner and the life you once shared as a family.

It is essential to explore the issues surrounding changing names before taking any steps to initiate the process. We can help you evaluate your situation and assist in helping you determine the direction you would like to go.

Karyn Youso is a family law attorney and mediator in practice for over 25 years, helping people understand the complications of Wisconsin divorce lawsContact First Look today for a free 30-minute consultation.