What’s in a Name Change?

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  • Dec 08 2016
Chicago Divorce Attorney

When a final judgment of dissolution of marriage is entered, the Court, as a matter of good practice, almost always includes a provision stating that the wife may resume use of her maiden name. Whether or not she takes steps to legally change her name (i.e. through the Social Security Administration) is up to her. The judgment of dissolution of marriage is the instrument she will be required to present if and when she decides to do so.

In a recent matter in DuPage County, the wife sought not only to change her last name, but also the last name of the children. See IRMO Piegari, 2016 IL App (2nd) 160549. Specifically, during the divorce action, the mother petitioned the court to change the children’s surnames to a hyphenated name, to reflect her maiden name and the husband’s. She argued that the hyphenated name would “avoid future confusion when [she] enrolls the children in [school] and extracurricular activities.” She also stated that the hyphenated last name would allow the children to “enjoy their cultural heritage” on both sides of the family. She further asserted that since the children were young (ages 2 and 4), the change at this point in their lives would not promote confusion.  Before the trial court held a hearing on the matter, the mother unilaterally started using the hyphenated name in the children’s records.

Names changes are governed by Section 21-101 in the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. The Court is required to consider “all relevant factors” including, but not limited to, the parent’s wishes, the child’s wishes, the child’s “interaction and interrelationship with his or her family, and the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community. The parent seeking the change has the burden of proof and must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the change is necessary to serve the best interest of the child. A strong desire to implement the change, absent a showing that is necessary, is not sufficient.

The trial court in the instant case found that the mother had not met her burden of proof. She was enjoined from using the hyphenated surname for the children. The mother appealed the decision to the Appellate Court and the Appellate Court found that the lower court’s decision was proper. The Appellate Court indicated that “the consistent use of a single name is important to a child’s emotional development and that, as with any other best-interests determination, will not be lightly undone.”

For the complete opinion in this case see: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2016/2ndDistrict/2160594.pdf.

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