What’s in a Name? Possibly a Lot if You’re a Parent of a Minor Child in New Jersey


If you studied Shakespeare in English class, you may remember the lines from Romeo and Juliet that say “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” If you’ve studied Dale Carnegie, you may have crossed a quote from the famed lecturer that says a “person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Unavoidably, names are important things. After a divorce, you are, of course, free to change your name. However, what options do you have when it comes to your children’s names? Does the law allow you to change their names, too? The answer is “Yes, potentially.” To make sure you have what you need to win this kind of name-change case, you should be sure you have skillful representation from an experienced Hoboken family law attorney to give the court what you need to succeed.

Recently, the Appellate Division court had to address this issue. The couple at odds were ex-spouses who separated after only five months. At the time the couple separated, the wife was four months pregnant. Two weeks after the separation, the couple agreed to a consent order. Paragraph 10 of that order laid out the first, middle and last names to be given to the unborn child.

However, when the baby arrived, the mother made the unilateral decision to give her son a different name. None of the first, middle or last names she chose matched the three names set out in the consent order.

The father took the case back to court, seeking to have the son’s name changed to the one mentioned in the consent order. In a lot of situations, courts will strive to enforce  mutual agreements freely reached between two opposing sides. It’s called the freedom to contract and it is a powerful freedom.

One thing that can trump the freedom to contract when a contract relates to a minor child is something called the best interests of the child. The law says that the courts must seek to establish orders that promote the child’s best interests, even if that means throwing out a valid contract (or part of a contract.)

What that meant for this Bergen County mother was that, even though she had agreed to give the child a certain name in the consent order, the child’s name would remain what she named him unless the court decided that a change would better promote the best interests of the boy.

So, from a practical standpoint, because the boy already had the name the mother gave him, the burden of proof fell onto the father to show that the name he favored would better meet the child’s best interests. The mother, of course, was free at the hearing to put on proof that a name change would negatively impact the child’s best interests.

A custodial parent’s burden in a name change case is higher now

Whether you want your child’s name changed or want it to remain unchanged, this kind of family law dispute is probably something very close to your heart. Rely on diligent legal counsel to help you pursue the outcome you need. Skilled Hoboken family law attorney Frank Marciano, backed by his hardworking team, has handled a wide spectrum of family law cases, including name changes, and knows what is needed to obtain a positive result. To set up a consultation, contact the office online or call 201.656.1000.

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