When children are born to unmarried parents, at times we get questions from mothers about name changes for their children who are legally known by their fathers’ last names. Sometimes, when the mother has given a child her last name at birth, the father files to have the child’s last name changed to his own last name.
In this blog, we will go over some of the Ohio case law on name change efforts and what the Courts look for or require in deciding if changing a child’s last name in Ohio can legally be completed.
Is changing a child’s last name in Ohio legal?
We will start with the 1988 case of Bobo V. Jewell (No. 87-1172.; 38 Ohio St. 3d 330 (1988) which was a case involving an appeal to the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio. One of several issues was the trial court’s decision which changed the child’s last name from Jewell to Bobo when the lower court had determined that Mr. Bobo was the child’s father. The court of appeals had apparently reversed the changing of the name to Bobo and ordered the name to be changed back to Jewell.
The Supreme Court of Ohio has gone through some interesting historical changes, starting with the fact that many years ago a child born out of wedlock was not given the last name of either parent. As customs progressed, such a child was later given the mother’s last name. The Ohio Supreme Court noted that “In Ohio, an illegitimate child must be given the surname of its mother at birth unless both parents sign the birth certificate as informants and both the mother and father designate that the child is to be given the father’s surname. R.C. 3705.14.” Apparently, this is what had been done in the case before the lower court’s decision (the child had the mother’s last name) and so the Supreme Court case here was concerned with the changing of that last name after it had originally been established.
The Supreme Court of Ohio pointed out that, in Ohio, name changes can come about through motions filed in probate courts, or sometimes just from the “adoption of a new name” so long as fraud is not involved. The case before the Supreme Court in this case, though, came about from a request for a name change in a juvenile court during proceedings to establish that Mr. Bobo was, in fact, the father.
In this case, the Supreme Court of Ohio recognized that a lower court had the power to make orders which were in the best interest of a child and that the court was authorized to order a new birth certificate to be issued giving the child a new last name. The court said that, to be fair and non-discriminatory in deciding whether to change a child’s last name, the lower court had to “find” that it was in the best interest of the child but that no greater weight should be given to the father’s desire to have his child bear his name, regardless of prior customs regarding naming. The court indicated that if the parents had never been married, the mother’s interest in having the child bear her last name was equal to the father’s interest in bearing his name.
In determining the best interest of the child, the Supreme Court stated that the lower court should consider only the following factors: “…the length of time that the child has used a surname, the effect of a name change on the father-child relationship and on the mother-child relationship, the identification of the child as part of a family unit, the embarrassment, discomfort or inconvenience that may result when a child bears a surname different from the custodial parent’s (surname), the preference of the child if the child is of an age and maturity to express a meaningful preference, and any other factor relevant to the child’s best interest.”
In upholding the court of appeals reversing the name change from the lower court, the Supreme Court of Ohio noted that the mother (Ms. Jewell) was the custodial parent, that the child had been known by the mother’s surname (Jewell), and that no evidence in the record supported the conclusion that the change in name (to Bobo) was in the best interest of the child.
A Franklin County, Ohio Case
In the Franklin County 10th District Court of Appeals, a decision was issued in 2016 regarding the case of Bond v. de Rinaldis, 2016-Ohio-3342. In that case, the mother (Ms. de Rinaldis) appealed a decision of the lower (Juvenile) Court. She and Mr. Bond were the parents of Andrew, a son born out of wedlock. She had his name placed on his birth certificate as Andrew “Pandolfi de Rinaldis Cano”. Later, Mr. Bond filed an action seeking to be named as Andrew’s father and asking that Andrew’s last name include Mr. Bond’s last name.
Mr. Bond was determined to be Andrew’s father through genetic testing and the parties later tried the case wherein one of the issues was whether Andrew’s surname should be changed. Mr. Bond stated that “Cano” was the mother’s step-mother’s maiden name and he wanted that portion of Andrew’s last name replaced with “Bond.”
When the Magistrate issued a decision, the Magistrate decided that Andrew’s name should be changed to “Bond-Pandolfi de Rinaldis” and that change was in Andrew’s best interest.
The mother appealed and stated that the court had used an “improper test” and incorrectly ordered a change to Andrew’s last name.
The court of appeals recognized that an unwed mother may give her child any last name she chooses by putting that name on her child’s birth certificate (R.C. 3705.09(F)(1)). However, the Court of Appeals also recognized that a father can ask for a name change, and the Court of Appeals referred to the “best interest of the child” standard (R.C. 3111.13(C)) – and even the right to apply for name changes in probate court (R.C. 2717.01(B)).
The court of appeals, in this case, reiterated the things to consider from the Supreme Court case (above) but also mentioned “(7) parental failure to maintain contact with and support the child…” which may actually be part of the concept mentioned in the Supreme Court case — that being “the identification of the child as part of a family unit.”
The Court of appeals decided that the trial court had applied the proper factors and upheld the trial court (Magistrate’s) decision including the father’s last name as part of the child’s last name.
Interestingly, in this case, the Court of Appeals noted that “… the Supreme Court of Ohio has expressed a preference for a hyphenated surname for a child of divorced or unmarried parents who is not old enough to have established an existing surname as part of his or her identity,” going on to state that “…a hyphenated surname helps a child identify with both parents,” and that, “… a combined surname gives the child a greater sense of security,” also mentioning that, “… [t]he child with a combined surname does not have to explain why his or her last name is different [from his father’s or mother’s surname]. A combined surname is a solution that recognizes each parent’s legitimate claims and threatens neither parent’s rights. The name merely represents the truth that both parents created the child and that both parents have responsibility for that child.”
If you are considering changing a child’s last name in Ohio, you should consult with a family law attorney who can help you anticipate the issues which will be involved in your case and help with the presentation of the evidence and testimony required to advance your position on the matter.
Attorney William L. Geary has been practicing law since 1979 and concentrates his practice solely in Family and Juvenile law matters. Attorney Geary is admitted to practice before the Ohio Bar, the Federal Court for the Southern District of the State of Ohio and also before the U.S. Supreme Court. www.columbusfamilylawyer.com