The NJ Supreme Court recently gave a decision in Emma v. Evans. In this case the divorced parents shared legal custody of their two children but mother Jessica Evans was the parent of primary residence. The children’s father, Paul Emma, discovered through school records that the mother had changed the children’s surname from Emma to Evans-Emma. Competing motions ensued, escalating to the Supreme Court.
The Court ruled unanimously as follows:
In a dispute to rename a child of divorced parents, the party seeking to alter the surname jointly given to the child at birth bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the change is in the child’s best interest. Irrespective of whether the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth, the best-interests-of-the-child test should be applied in a renaming dispute without a presumption in favor of the custodial parent’s decision to change the jointly given surname of the child.
Applying the best-interests-of-the-child test in the context of a dispute over whether to change a child’s name requires a fact-sensitive analysis. Each case should be weighed on its merits. Some factors to consider are: the length of time the child has used his or her given surname; identification of the child with a particular family unit; potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort that may result from having a different surname from that of the custodial parent; and the child’s preference if the child is mature enough to express it.