Trial Court Erred Denying Child Surname Change

Family Law Case Review
Case: the Paternity of: N.C.G., B.G., v. N.G.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: In a paternity case, because Father had paid child support, exercised parenting time, actively participated in Child’s life, and demonstrated that Father wanted Child to have Father’s last name to solidify Father’s bond with Child, the trial court erred when it denied Father’s request to change Child’s surname to Father’s surname.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Child was born in 2010. At his birth, he was given Mother’s surname. A paternity order was issued shortly after Child’s birth, giving Mother sole legal and primary physical custody of Child, and ordering Father to pay child support of $155/wk. Following mediation of additional unresolved issues between the parties, they further agreed that Father would have IPTG parenting time with Child.

In 2012, Father filed a petition to change Child’s surname to Father’s surname. At a hearing, Father testified as to his payment of child support, and his wish for Child to have his surname because it would “cement in [Child’s] mind who his biological Father is.” Mother testified that, since she had primary physical custody of Child, having different names would be inconvenient and potentially confusing. Father indicated that his delay in asserting the name change was a result of an extended period of trying to resolve the issue with Mother by agreement. After the hearing, the trial court denied Father’s motion to change Child’s surname, from which Father appealed.

The Court of Appeals recited the applicable statute and case law, including that there is a rebuttable presumption that a child born out of wedlock will have the mother’s last name, absent the father persuading the Court that the child’s best interests would be served by having the father’s surname. The Court also reviewed recent case law, which supported names being changed to the father’s as part of “an effort to encourage a paternal connection with a father’s nonmarital and noncustodial child.” The Court also underscored the reasoning in its recent C.B. case that “having a father’s surname under circumstances such as those presented in the instant case is in a child’s best interest because it is a tangible reminder that the child has two parents.”

The Court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Father’s motion to change Child’s surname. The trial court’s order was reversed and remanded with instructions to enter an order changing Child’s name to Father’s surname.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In Re: the Paternity of: N.C.G., B.G., v. N.G.

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The Matrimonial Law Group of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP is one of the largest full-service matrimonial and family law practices in the State of Indiana. We represent clients in a wide spectrum of family law matters, including premarital agreements, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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