Missouri Law Summary on Name Changes for Minor Children

Parents are allowed to change their child's name. Both parents must give written consent in order for a court to grant the name change. Missouri courts will consider a name change to be proper by applying a best interest of the child test. According to Missouri case law, the court looks at three factors: (1) the child's age; (2) the potential embarrassment or discomfort the child would experience when his or her surname is different from the custodial parent's name; (3) and how the name change will affect the child's relationship with their parents.1

A. Adoption

After the adoption proceedings, the child's name will be changed to that of the adoptive parents.2 In Missouri, adoptive parents should follow Missouri Rule of Civil Procedure 95.01for change of the child's surname. The child should be of sufficient age to make an intelligent decision as to have their surname changed.

Before a court enters an order to change the name, the court must have jurisdiction over the matter. "Although a certain court may have general jurisdiction over the name change of a child, another court may have specific authority to order that a new birth certificate be issued with an accompanying change of name in the course of a paternity proceeding."3 The practitioner should be aware of the appropriate jurisdiction so the name change and issuance of a new birth certificate can happen simultaneously.

B. Paternity under Parentage Act

Missouri adopted the Uniform Parentage Act in 1987. The act strives to provide a civil cause of action in determining paternity.4 "The purpose of the Uniform Parentage Act is to provide a law that affords children born out of wedlock the same welfare and support afforded children born of a marriage. The Uniform Parentage Act replaces some of the older laws that have been ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court."5

What happens when the man has been determined to be the father? Can the father petition the court to have his child bear his surname? The father may petition the court to change the name. The court applies the same factor test when determining if the name change is in the best interest of the child. The court addressed this question in Wright v. Buttercase. The father and the mother were in a brief relationship.6 The mother gave birth and was certain another man was the father of her child.7 Acting on this information, Father contacted Mother, who agreed to a paternity test, and the paternity test confirmed that Father was the child's parent.8 "On November 27, 2006, the circuit court entered a judgment finding that Father was the child's parent, and ordering that the child's surname be changed from Mother's to Father's surname."9 The mother appealed. The circuit court has wide discretion with regard to changes of surname in paternity actions and should be guided by what is in the best interests of the child in determining the appropriate surname, (See, Cobb by Webb v. Cobb, 844 S.W.2d 7, 9 (Mo.App.1992).10 The parent seeking to change the child's surname bears the burden of proving that the change is in the child's best interest.11 The court found sufficient evidence that the name change was not detrimental to the child and supported the trial court's decision. First, the child was too young to be confused or upset by the name change.12 Secondly, the child had not been enrolled in school or known by that name.13 Thirdly, evidence existed that there would be little or any embarrassment by switching the child's surname.14 Therefore, the court concluded the change of name was appropriate and affirmed the lower court's decision.

The court will not grant change of name based on the father's beliefs or unsubstantiated claims. C.R.F. ex rel. C.R.C. v. B.M.F., 174 S.W.3d 90, 91 (Mo. App. 2005) (two days after the child was born, the father petitioned for paternity test and custody).15 The court changed the child's surname to the father's and the mother appealed.16 Here, Father testified that he was requesting the name change because, in his words, "I am his father and he is my son and I believe he should carry on my name."17 The evidence here of Father's motivation does not constitute evidence that the name change is in the best interest of the child. Because there was insufficient evidence presented demonstrating that the change of name was in the child's best interest, the trial court erred in granting Father's request to change the child's surname.18

C. Name Change Procedure

A parent can petition the court for change of name. It may be difficult to seek change of name under the Parentage Act because other issues like custody and visitation may arise. Filing a petition can save time and money. Under Missouri Rule of Civil Procedure 95.01, the petition for change of name shall be verified and shall state:

a. The present name of petitioner and the name desired;

b. The reason for such desired change;

c. That the petitioner is a resident of the county in which the change of name is sought;

d. The date and place of birth of petitioner and petitioner's father's name and mother's maiden name;

e. If petitioner is married the name of petitioner's spouse and if petitioner has children the and ages of each and their place of residence;

f. If petitioner's name has previously been changed, when and where and by what court;

g. Whether any judgment for money which has not been satisfied is pending

against petitioner and if so, the style of the case wherein the judgment was entered and the court in which the judgment was entered;

h. Whether any action for money is pending against petitioner and, if so, the style

of the case and the court in which it is pending; and

i. That the change of name will not be detrimental to any other person.

Additionally, when petitioning for change of a minor's name there must be notice given to both parents. Under Missouri Rule of Civil Procedure 95.03:

When a minor files a petition for change of name the written consent of each known parent shall be filed. If the written consent of each known parent is not filed, a copy of the petition together with a notice stating the date of the hearing shall be served on each known parent not consenting not less than thirty days before the date of the hearing. The service shall be by registered or certified mail addressed to the last known address of the non-consenting parent. Service shall be proved by the certificate of the clerk that he has mailed a copy of the petition and notice by registered or certified mail.

The judge is more than likely to grant the petition if the child is under the age of five and has not started school yet. The concern comes when the child is older. The court questions the motives and rationale for changing the child's name when they are older. The court is more reluctant to change the child's name once they are older. The child may become embarrassed, upset, or cause confusion. The court will employ the factor test to see if the name change is in the best interest of an older child.

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1 21 Mo. Prac., Family Law § 6:3 (3d ed.).

2 2 Children & the Law: Rights and Obligations § 11:18.

3 57 Am. Jur. 2d Name § 57.

4 21 Mo. Prac., Family Law § 16:1 (3d ed.).

5 Uniform Law Commission, (visited Mar. 4, 2015), <http://www.uniformlaws.org/ActSummary.aspx?title=Parentage%20Act>.

6Wright v. Buttercase ex rel. Buttercase, 244 S.W.3d 174, 176 (Mo. App. 2008).

7 Id.

8 Id.

9 Id.

10 Id. at 177.

11 Id.

12 Id.

13 Id.

14 Id.

15 C.R.F. ex rel. C.R.C. v. B.M.F., 174 S.W.3d 90, 91 (Mo. App. 2005).

16 Id.

17 Id. at 92.

18 Id.