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Understanding the process
Unmarried fathers do not have to register their children's birth and have no independent right to have their name entered on the birth certificate. For both parents’ names to be included on the birth certificate, they need to either:
- both agree and sign the register together
- take a statutory declaration of parentage form that has been completed by one parent and presented by the other parent at the registration
- have an appropriate Court Order that declares the father’s parental responsibility.
If you are feeling unsure or are a same sex couple, Gov.uk have more information about registering a child’s birth.
Deciding to change a child’s surname
Decisions may be made to change a child’s surname due to changes in the family unit or to remove connection to a parent who does not have any involvement in the child’s life. Whilst after a divorce, children normally keep their present surname, changing their name might be considered when, for example, members of a stepfamily have different surnames and/or if the parent with the same surname as the child is not a part of the child’s life anymore.
The decision to change a child’s surname must be carefully considered because it can impact a child’s identity. It may give the child a sense of inclusion and unity if the family unit has changed, which could benefit their sense of identity, but it could also remove an important connection to the other parent. Building family togetherness does not depend on the use of the same family surname.
You need to be sure that such a big step like changing a child's surname is the right thing to do in all the circumstances. Things to think about:
- The feelings of all those who will be affected - the child, the other parent whose name it is and those of grandparents and other relatives.
- How this is in the child’s best interests?
- If the child is old enough to understand the decision, what do they want to happen?
- Will the child resent this decision later in life and want to change their name back again?
The difference between a ‘known as’ name and a child’s legal name
A child’s legal name is the name that is given on their birth certificate. This name must be used on legal documentation and for official purposes, including school and medical records. Whereas a ‘known as’ name is less official and can be used on a day-to-day basis, for example a teacher calling a child by their preferred ‘known as’ name. A ‘known as’ name can be easily changed but this is not the same for a legal name.
The law on family names
You cannot simply change a child's name when you divorce, remarry or set up a new partnership. It is a legal process, and the Court has the duty to decide what is in the best interests of the child. If the child is under 16, an application to change their name is normally only successful when everyone with parental responsibility for the child gives their written consent.
If a person with parental responsibility does not agree to the name being changed, an application can be made to the court requesting a Specific Issue Order. This type of order looks to determine a specific question or issue that relates to a child’s upbringing, which has arisen in connection to parental responsibility. It would need to be shown to the court that changing the child’s name meets the welfare criteria and is in the best interests of the child. For more information, Child Law Advice sets out the Welfare Checklist.
If a person with parental responsibility is absent from a child’s life, it still may be possible to change a child’s name without their consent. The person making the application would need to demonstrate they do not know their whereabouts of the other person with parental responsibility and they have taken reasonable steps to make contact.
Even if a father does not have parental responsibility, it would be reasonable to expect them to be asked whether they agree to the change in name as they would be considered an ‘interested party’. If they do not agree, this can be disputed in court. They can also apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order to have a name change reversed if it has already been changed.
How to change your child's surname
To change a child’s surname, you need a deed poll which is the legal document that proves the change of name. There are two types of deed poll you can apply for:
- Unenrolled deed poll: you can obtain this through a solicitor or by using a deed poll agency.
- Enrolled deed poll: you can obtain this through the Royal Courts of Justice.
If you choose an enrolled deed poll, your child’s change of name will become public record and will be advertised in The Gazette. It is not a requirement for the deed poll to be enrolled. Government bodies (e.g. HM Passport Office, DVLA, etc.) accept both enrolled and unenrolled deed polls. However, some organisations may only accept an enrolled deed poll and it is worth checking with any you are dealing with, like your bank, what type of deed poll they will accept.
The gov.uk website gives more information about the process of changing a child’s surname. This includes links to the forms for applying to change a child’s name and forms for a court order, if you need one.
If you are aged over 16, you can make your own unenrolled deed poll. To do this you will need two adult witnesses and, to ensure the document will be accepted, it is best they are not close relatives or live at the same address. You can find a template for the name change deed poll on the gov.uk website.
Q. Can the parent and stepparent alone change the child’s name?
A. No, they must have the written agreement of anyone else with parental responsibility or if not, apply to the Court.
Q. What happens if my ex won’t give consent?
A. The Court can overrule the other parent but only after careful consideration of all the facts.
Q. What if I was unmarried when the child was born and not included on the birth certificate?
A. Fathers without parental responsibility for the child should still be included in this legal process for changing the child’s surname. If he does not agree, he can apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order. It is important to remember the law is fast moving towards giving unmarried fathers greater involvement in their children's lives, even where they do not have parental responsibility.
Q. How long does it take?
A. It varies according to which route you take. Your solicitor will advise you.
Q. Can a child change their own name?
A. If aged between 16 and 18 a child can change their name themselves via an unenrolled deed poll.
Q. Can a child object to their name being changed?
A. Yes, if the Court is involved the child may well be consulted, if not the child could apply to the Court.
Q. How much does it cost?
A. It varies according to which route you take and who is involved. Ask your solicitor to tell you all the costs before taking any steps.
Q. Having made the deed poll, will the birth certificate be changed?
A. No, this is considered unlikely. Official documents can be changed once the deed poll process is completed, however, the birth certificate is considered a historic record. A birth certificate can still be used as proof of identity, provided it is shown alongside the deed poll. Under certain circumstances a birth can be re-registered and Child Law Advice give information on this.
Making the decision to change a child’s surname should not be taken lightly. It is a legal process and you will need to evidence how it is in the best interests of the child. Try talking it through with a solicitor, your local Citizens Advice service or with one of our Family Support Workers at Family Lives. You can get in touch with us on our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222, via email or live chat.