When two people with children get divorced, issues of child custody must be resolved. Sometimes a judge grants one parent sole custody while giving the other parent visitation rights. A custodial parent generally has physical custody of the children meaning that the kids live with that parent. The custodial parent often has the ability to make the legal decisions for the children such as where they go to school, whether the children will attend religious school, and the types of health care that the children will receive.
One area of law that has just been settled in New Jersey is whether a custodial parent has the right to unilaterally change a child’s last name. In the litigation, a woman who had sole custody of her children made up a new last name for her children; she combined each parent’s last name separated by a hyphen. The mother then used this hybrid last name on the kids’ health insurance and school forms. Her next step was to petition the court to drop her ex-husband’s last name from the hyphenated version so that the children’s last names matched only her own.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on the matter and disagreed with a lower court that a name change request by a custodial parent should automatically be granted. Going forward, the a custodial parent in New Jersey has the burden of proof to show that it is in the best interests of the child to have his or her last name changed.
People who have questions pertaining to the rights of custodial parents, such as changing a child’s last name, enforcing a child custody order or working through a child custody dispute may find it helpful to speak to an attorney who specializes in family law.
Source: Source: CBS New York, “Court: Divorced NJ Woman Blocked From Changing Her Kids’ Last Names,” Aug. 12, 2013