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Name Change of a Minor in the Twenty-First Century

Aug 11, 2017 | Written by: Diana N. Fredericks, Esq. |

In June 2017, the trial court published an opinion addressing a matter of first impression in the State of New Jersey[i].   Plainitff, the mother of the 16-year-old child, petitioned the Court to allow the parties’ transgendered child to change his name from Veronica to Trevor. 

The Court was faced with the question of the standard to be applied in this instance.  Ultimately, the Court concluded the best interests of the child should govern and the following factors considered when determining whether a name change is in the minor child’s best interests, where the minor is transgendered, and wishes to assume a name they believe corresponds to the gender they identify with:

(1) The age of the child;

(2) The length of time the child has used the preferred name;

(3) Any potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort that may result from the child having a name he or she believes does not match his or her outward appearance and gender identity;

(4) The history of any medical or mental health counseling the child has received;

(5) The name the child is known by in his or her family, school and community;

(6) The child’s preference and motivations for seeking the name change;

(7) Whether both parents consent to the name change, and if consent is not given, the reason for withholding consent.

“Experts emphasize that it is very important to transgender youth to have their gender recognized and validated.” Allison S. Bohm et al, Seventeenth Annual Review of Gender and Sexuality Law: Annual Review Article: Challenges Facing LGBT Youth, 17 GEO. J. GENDER 7 L. 125, 140 (2016). "Trevor has undergone hormone therapy and presents as a young man with facial hair, a muscular build, a head full of male-textured hair, and a deeper voice. To force him to legally keep the feminine name “Veronica” would not be in his best interest. Therefore, plaintiff’s motion to legally change Veronica’s name to Trevor is granted. Plaintiff shall comply with the publication and filing requirements under Rule 4:72-4.5.”[ii]

Request by a Minor or their Parent(s) to Change a Surname

Generally speaking, there is a clear procedure when seeking a name change of a minor.  

First, a verified complaint needs to be filed setting for the grounds upon which the name change application is being made.

The Complaint must clearly state that the name change is not made with the intent to avoid creditors, obstruct prosecution, whether the minor child has ever been convicted of delinquency and the sentence imposed and whether any such charges are pending. 

The Complaint must also indicate whether there was/is a family law matter (divorce, custody dispute, etc.) within the prior three years.   This is to protect the case in which a parent may attempt to change a child’s name as part of a divorce for other than altruistic reasons. 

In order to determine whether it is in the minor child’s best interests to change their surname, the Court should consider the following factors[iii]:

(1) The length of time the child has used his or her given surname;

(2) The identification of the child with a particular family unit;

(3) Potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort that may result from having a different surname from that of the custodial parent;

(4) The child’s preference if the child is mature enough to express a preference;

(5) Parental misconduct or neglect, such as failure to provide support or maintain contact with the child;

(6) Degree of community respect, or lack thereof, associated with either paternal or maternal name;

(7) Improper motivation on the part of the parent seeking the name change;

(8) Whether the mother has changed or intends to change her name upon remarriage;

(9) Whether the child has a strong relationship with any siblings with different names;

(10) Whether the surname has important ties to family heritage or ethnic identity; and

(11) The effect of a name change on the relationship between the child and each parent.

Subsequently, the Court considered the case of Emma v. Evans and concluded that the best interest of the child test should be applied in determining whether to change the jointly given name of a child, regardless of whether the child was born out of wedlock or during the marriage and without a presumption in favor of the custodial parent[iv]

“The consent of the minor child’s parents is but only one factor to consider in determining if the name change is in the child’s best interest.”

Conclusion

Name change applications can be quite complicated, emotionally, procedurally and legally.  Even after the aforementioned complaint and factors are considered, there are a litany of steps to follow in order to ultimately obtain an Order granting the request for a name change. 

 

Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters.  She is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney and was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015.  Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email. 

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[i] http://judiciary.state.nj.us/attorneys/assets/opinions/trial/Sacklow-v-Betts.pdf

[ii] Rule 4:72-3 requires the publication of the notice of application for a name change and Rule 4:72-4 requires publication of the judgment granting the name change and the filing of the judgment with the county clerk and Department of Treasury. These publication requirements have been dispensed with in cases involving victims of domestic violence. In re E.F.G., 398 N.J. Super. 539, 547-49 (App. Div. 2008). There may be cases involving minor children where a court would not require the publication of a name change. However, given the parties’ request that their real names be used in this decision and the fact that Trevor is the subject of a documentary, this court does not find it necessary to protect his identity and thus will order plaintiff to comply with the publication and filing requirements.

[iii] Gubernat v. Deremer, 140 N.J. 120 (1995)

[iv] Emma v. Evans, 215 N.J. 197 (2013)