A recent case in the Family Law courts has bought to the forefront the law on name changes. This article will summarise the law in relation to changing a child’s name, and explain why courts grapple with the more “interesting” name change applications.
Under the Family Law Act parents have parental responsibility over their children, but there is no definition as to what that is. To simplify we will just say that parents are able to make the important decisions regarding their children, including their name. The law says a parent has the choice of name, as long as the name is not prohibited. Prohibited means a name that is:
- Offensive (e.g.swearing)
- Too long or has symbols in it (#baby)
- Is a rank or title (i.e. Prime Minister Bob)
But what if the other parent does not agree to have the child’s name changed?
As we have mentioned in other articles, the Court’s paramount and most important consideration is the best interests of the child. In name change applications the test is no different, and the Court asks what name would better serve the best interests of the child?. The recent Vader case helps to explain as an example.
It involved an 18 month old child whose mother wanted to move to Europe. Ironically they were able to come to an agreement about the relocation, but stayed in Court as they had been arguing over the child’s name. The father at birth initially wanted to name the child Vader Koruba, but agreed to ‘B Furst’ (first name is omitted in Court to protect the child’s identity). Ultimately the question became whether the Koruba could be the child’s middle name for cultural reasons.
The mother argued that having an African name in a European country would be embarrassing for the child, and therefore not in his best interests. The father argued it would promote his relationship with his child, as it would serve as a reminder of his African heritage. Ultimately, the court found that the addition of the father’s name would be unlikely to cause the child embarrassment or alienate him from his class mates, and be a reminder of his father. As a result the Court ordered the name change.
Working out the legal meaning of the best interests of a child is a challenging task. For advice regarding parenting matters, call our Family Law Team on (02) 4324 7699 for a free confidential chat on the phone.