It is not uncommon for spouses who changed their name upon marriage to change it back upon divorce. It’s less common, however, to change the children's last name at the time of divorce. A recent Texas divorce case showcases one mother’s attempt to do so.
If you have questions or concerns related to divorce, reaching out for the skilled legal guidance of an experienced Killeen divorce attorney is always well advised.
The couple in question divorced in January 2022, and the mother was named the sole managing conservator of the two young children who were born in 2019 and 2020. The children’s last name was structured as the father’s last name followed by the mother’s last name – with a space but no hyphen between them.
Following the divorce, the mother petitioned to have the father’s last name removed from the children’s last name – alleging that he’d neither supported them nor played a role in their lives and that removing his name was in their best interest.
The trial court held two hearings on the matter, but the father neither answered nor participated in them. The mother made all the following claims in her testimony:
She wanted to remove the father’s name in an effort to avoid confusion.
She had extended family in the area with whom she shared a last name.
She had no plans to change her last name, which she shared with the children.
The change was not an attempt to alienate the children’s father.
At court, the children’s birth certificates – with their names on them – were admitted as evidence.
The Trial Court’s Finding
The trial court proceeded to deny the mother’s request and, instead, ruled orally as follows:
"So what the court will do is allow you to put a hyphen between the last names. The name will be corrected to put a hyphen in between the last name of the father and the mother. The court does grant it in that regard. Other than that, all other relief is denied – not in the best interest of the children. You can put a hyphen in between the two names so that it can be a hyphenated name."
From here, the trial court signed an order that changed the children’s last name to the hyphenated version and ordered the Bureau of Vital Statistics to make the necessary changes.
The mother appealed the trial court’s order that hyphenated the children’s last name – claiming that it abused its discretion by ordering relief that she had not requested and that it failed to establish its remedy was in the children’s best interest.
The appeals court found that a court’s judgment is in error if it fails to conform with the pleadings. In other words, the trial court lacked the authority to grant relief that was not requested by either party.
If you want to appeal your family law case, things can get complicated very quickly, so it is always best to proceed with skilled legal representation by your side. Contact a Killeen family lawyer for help with your appeal.
The Mother’s Request
The mother requested that the trial court remove the father’s last name from her children’s last name. She never requested that the name be hyphenated. At the court hearing, the mother relayed that the children could use their father’s last name as their middle name if the court failed to remove it.
According to the record and the live pleadings, she did not ask that the trial court hyphenate the father’s last name with her own at any point.
The Trial Court’s Task
The trial court was tasked with determining whether the mother established that removing the father’s last name from her children’s last name was in their best interest or, barring that, determining whether using the father’s last name as a middle name was in the children’s best interest, but it failed to do either.
Because the trial court’s ruling did not conform with the mother’s petition or her requested relief, the appeals court found it in error. The trial court’s order was reversed and remanded for further legal proceedings.
Name Change with Divorce
While changing one’s name is generally a detailed and lengthy legal process, it is less so if you address the matter from the outset. People generally choose to change their names back to what they were prior to marriage, but even if you choose a completely different name, you can seek the change in your divorce decree as long as you meet certain requirements that include not being a convicted felon.
Since changing one’s name with divorce is fairly common, most divorce attorneys address the matter early. This strategy allows you to include the necessary paperwork with the petition for divorce.
If you fail to include your name change request with your petition for divorce or answer, the State of Texas allows a request to amend, but it must be filed at least 30 days prior to your trial date if you hope to change your name with your divorce.
Seeking a Name Change Is a Personal Decision
Upon divorce, many people choose to keep their married name in order to have the same name as their children. After a long marriage, keeping the same name can simply be a matter of convenience, and some exes have had their married names longer than they had their original last names.
Changing your name upon marriage is a very personal decision, and so, too, is changing your name back upon divorce. The most important point to keep in mind is that if you don’t change your name upon divorce and later wish you had, you will face a more complicated legal process.
A compassionate Killeen divorce attorney will understand and support your name change decision, whatever you choose. Contact a lawyer for guidance along the divorce path that is best for you.
Changing Your Children’s Last Name during Divorce
As the case above highlights, parents sometimes want to change their children’s last names upon divorce. You can change your children’s last name when you divorce – or during a suit affecting the parent-child relationship – but you’ll need to prove that doing so is in their best interest.
If you are considering changing your children’s last name in your divorce, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. We are emotionally attached to our names, and unilaterally deciding to change your children’s names can have lasting repercussions.
Generally, Texas courts are hesitant to change the last name of children unless both parents are in agreement and the court has no reason to believe the change will adversely affect the children, which can be a very tall order.
The process will include all of the following steps:
You’ll need to submit a petition to change the name of a child and request a hearing on the matter.
You’ll need to appear before the judge.
If you and your children’s other parent – or any nonparent who is a managing conservator, such as a grandmother or grandfather – agree to the name change, things will generally proceed fairly smoothly.
If the child is at least ten years old, he or she will need to agree and sign the petition.
When one party is in disagreement, you can expect the process to be far more challenging.
Name Change in a Texas Marriage or Divorce: FAQ
Many people have questions related to name changes at the time of both marriage and divorce, and the answers to some of those asked most frequently can help. You can also reach out to a skilled Killeen divorce attorney for answers to questions about your personal case.
Do I Have to Change My Name when I Marry?
No one is required to change their last name when they marry in the State of Texas. However, if you do want to change your last name to your spouse's last name, now is a good time to do so.
What If I Change My Mind Later and Want to Share My Spouse's Last Name?
Changing your last name to your spouse’s last name during the course of your marriage is perfectly acceptable. If you want to change your last name to your spouse’s, most U.S. organizations will accept your completed marriage license as proof of the change, even if your marriage license lists the name you were born with.
What Are My Name-Changing Options upon Marriage?
Your ability to change your name upon marriage without jumping through legal hoops is limited to the following three options:
Changing your last name to your spouse’s last name
Changing your current last name to your middle name and your spouse’s last name to your last name
Hyphenating your spouse’s last name with your own
All the following changes generally require a court order:
Changing your last name to something that merges your own and your spouse’s last names
Changing your last name to a family name that’s different from your own or your spouse’s last name
Changing your last name to something entirely new
If I Change My Name upon Divorce, What Agencies Do I Need to Notify?
If the court grants your name change request and includes it in your divorce decree, there are three primary government agencies you’ll need to inform:
The Social Security Administration
The Department of State – in order to renew or replace your passport
Is There Anyone Else I Should Inform?
If you have changed your name with divorce, there is a long list of entities that should be informed, and they include:
Your tax records should reflect your new name, which involves notifying the IRS.
Your employer should be informed of your name change to help ensure that your employment records are both current and accurate.
You should change your name on all legal documents, including your will, any trusts, your healthcare directives, and any powers of attorney.
Your insurance policies, including your life, health, car, and homeowners coverage, should be updated.
In order to make a clean transition, it’s also a good idea to change your name on your utility bills and other accounts, such as credit cards and your internet and cell service providers.
If you’re currently enrolled in school, promptly notifying the educational institution is in your best interest. The same is true of professional licensing boards and associations.
Changing Your Name outside of Divorce
If you failed to address the matter of changing your name during divorce, you can do so after. The process begins with filing an original petition for a change of name in your Texas county of residence.
To change your name officially, you’ll need to schedule a hearing and appear before the judge. If your request is approved, your name will be changed via court order. While you will need to appear in court, your request is likely to be approved as long as there is no compelling reason for the court to rule otherwise.
When Texas Courts Deny Name Changes
Texas courts endeavor to ensure that name changes are in the best interest of the person requesting the change as well as in the best interest of the public. For example, the court will want to ensure that you’re not changing your name to avoid creditors or to avoid detection, such as if there’s a warrant out for your arrest.
Further, you can’t change your name if you are a convicted felon unless you can prove that one of the following applies:
You were officially pardoned.
You were discharged from prison or completed probation at least two years prior.
The new name you’re requesting is the primary name found on your criminal record.
The court can also deny a name change for someone required to register as a sex offender – unless they can prove they have notified the appropriate authorities regarding the name-change request.
Turn to an Experienced Killeen Divorce Attorney for the Help You Need
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a trusted divorce attorney with the experience and legal insight to help you weigh your name-changing options and choose what best serves your needs. To learn more about what we can do to help, please don’t wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 today.