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Can You Change Your Children’s Surname After Divorce?

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name, Kane County family law attorneyIt is extremely common for women to change their names after divorce, usually back to their maiden name. However, an increasingly widespread movement has divorced women legally changing the names of their children, as well. The legality of this is questionable in some states, but it can be a balm to a woman who has gone through an abusive relationship or a nasty divorce. It is important to know the law before you take steps on your children’s behalf.

Traditional Views vs. Modern Views

Historically, there was no option to change your children’s name after divorce. The father’s name was usually the one given to the child, for better or worse, as long as he was still actively involved in parenting that child. However, nowadays, more and more states are allowing a minor child’s surname to be changed after divorce, especially if there was abuse involved. The key question asks, as it does in custody determinations and child support deliberations, what is in the best interest of the child.

One might wonder how something like that can be decided. Generally, a judge will decide in a similar manner to how parental responsibility cases are decided, considering a number of different factors. Some of these include the relationship with both parents (or lack thereof) and a child’s bond to any new family unit (for example, if a woman remarries and takes her second husband’s name, a child may want to do the same).

Procedure in Illinois

It is important to keep in mind two important facts about Illinois law. First, you must initiate a specific court proceeding to be able to change your children’s names; you may not simply do so as part of your divorce. Second, you must publicize the decision to change the child’s name in a newspaper or other media outlet before a hearing can be granted. This serves to give anyone who may have the right to speak against it (such as an absent parent) the opportunity to contest the proceeding. In Illinois, one parent may not change a child’s name unilaterally without at least attempting to locate the other parent. However, if no one has spoken to challenge the petition after the period of publication has ended, it is a point in your favor in terms of allowing the change.

Once your notice has been published for a certain period of time (six weeks is the norm in most Illinois counties, but it is always a good idea to double-check with the appropriate court in your area), you may request a hearing on the matter. At a hearing, you will present your case as to why a change is the best thing for the child or children in question. Your request will almost always be decided immediately after the hearing, and sometimes even right on the spot. If you are denied, you do have the right to appeal in most cases, but if nothing changes in your situation, the court may refuse to hear the appeal. If nothing has changed, the court would essentially be deciding the same case again with no new information.

Seek Experienced Legal Assistance

It is important to remember that even if you change yours and your children’s surnames after a divorce, you are not affecting the father’s legal standing. The only way to do that is to modify a custody agreement or bring a new spouse into the picture. Any and all of these proceedings can get quite complex, and very often a dedicated divorce attorney can provide significant assistance. The talented Kane County divorce lawyers at Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C. can advise you as to what course of action may be best for you and your family. Contact us today for a free consultation.


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