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Best interest of the children should determine name changes

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a mother could not change her children's last name unless she could prove it was in their best interest. The court issued a 37-page ruling referencing an ancient Roman doctrine, that said a name is the only permanent possession a person has in life and death.

The case began as a dispute over how the children would be addressed by their doctors and schools. Though both parents had substantial involvement with the children before and after the divorce, the children lived with their mother. The mother began using her maiden name again after the divorce was final and hyphenated the children's last name on all of their medical and school files.

The father, who shared custody of the children, contested the use of a hyphenated name. The mother then petitioned the court to legally change her children's last names. A local court ruled in her favor but an appellate court reversed the decision. Because the parents shared joint legal custody, they are required to work together to make decisions regarding their minor children. The high court's ruling gives guidance to family court judges in matters of name changes for children.

When a couple gets divorced, the court typically issues a custody order. Over time, the needs of children may change, and the order may need to be modified. Other child custody matters may also require court intervention. When that happens, a lawyer who has experience dealing with the family courts may be able to help resolve the issue by presenting the case to a judge. Lawyers are also sometimes able to serve as mediators while divorced couples resolve disputes on their own.

Source: Philly.com, "N.J. high court rules on changing children's names", Barbara Boyer, August 14, 2013

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