Hyphenating a Child’s Name Post-Separation
Co-parents face a multitude of issues upon separation. In some instance, this includes hyphenating a child’s last name to represent both sides of the family. When this issue is disputed, the court is tasked with deciding whether the change in last name should be implemented.
In BDO v DKG 2020 ABQB 514, the Honourable Justice D.R. Mah (“Justice Mah”) considered an application by a father to hyphenate the two-year-old child’s last name. The parties were unmarried, and the child had the mother’s surname assigned at birth. The mother initially applied for retroactive and ongoing child support and partner support from the father. The father then brought a cross application to have the child’s name hyphenated to include the surnames of both parents.
The mother contested having the child’s name hyphenated, though the Court expressly noted that her rationale was not clear. The mother submitted that changing the child’s last name may permit the father to abscond with the child to Newfoundland. She further argued that therapists and social workers recommended the child’s name stay the same. Lastly, her position was that the child was “too young to appreciate the nature of a name change”. However, this argument equally favoured the father.
In considering the name change, Justice Mah reviewed the following factors set out in Wintermute v O’Sullivan 1985 Canlii 1363 (the “Wintermute factors”) to be applied where there is a dispute regarding the child’s name:
- The welfare of the children is the paramount consideration;
- the short and long term effects of any change in the children’s surname;
- any embarrassment that the children may feel in having a different surname from that of the custodial parent;
- any confusion of identity that may arise if the name is changed or is not changed;
- the effect of a change of name on the relationship with the parent whose name the child bore during the marriage; and
- the effect of frequent or random changes of name.
The precedent further emphasized that there is no presumption in favour of hyphenating a child’s last name and the best interest of the child always governs the determination.
Based on the evidence before the Court, Justice Mah granted an order permitting the father to change the child’s surname to a hyphenated name consisting of both parent’s surnames. The Court was ultimately swayed by the importance of recognizing the child’s relationship with both parents that love her and that this is generally in the child’s best interests. The mother did not present a sufficient case for denying the hyphenated name.
In sum, the court will consider various factors in determining whether a name change is in the best interests of the child. The Family Law Lawyers at Vogel LLP are experienced in all areas of family litigation and can answer any questions about pursuing a name change for a child.