I am the father of a child who's mother I am not married to. She currently has full custody but I am seeking joint custody. Can I ask the court to change the child's last name to mine?

The answer to whether or not the child’s last name can be changed to the name of the unmarried father varies depending on the state that you are living in, and the laws of the state that establish paternity.

The Rules for Last Names

In most cases, the courts will allow a name change to the name of the unmarried father if the father signs a form stating that he accepts the paternity of the child and if the mother does not object. In this way, he becomes responsible for the child and if the couple separates or otherwise dissolves, he will have to pay child support, just as if he was married to the child’s mother at the time. In most cases, this type of name change is done at or shortly after the time of birth, and the name change request is submitted along with the birth certificate application to the state. It can also be done through court hearings, but the same rules will apply.

However, if a mother does not wish for a name change to occur, then the rules may be different. Generally, most courts will recognize that keeping the last name given to a child by the custodial parent is presumptively in the child's best interest. However, this is a general rule and the presumption is reputable by a preponderance of the evidence. This means, if you can prove that it is in your child's best interest to change his last name to your name, the court may allow this to occur, even if there are objections.

Getting Help

If you are an unmarried father, and you wish to have your child's last name changed to yours, you should consult with a lawyer who can advise you as to the proper procedure for doing so. An attorney can help you to take the steps necessary to convince the court that the name change is appropriate.