General Factors Ohio Courts Consider When Unmarried Parents Clash Over A Child’s Name Change
The process of changing your child’s last name (name change) can be quite involved. If there is a dispute between unmarried parents as to their child’s surname, there are some general name change factors that Courts in Ohio consider.
Changing the Name of a Juvenile Child
Bobo v. Jewell, the court described their review process for determining the surname of a child born to unmarried parents. The elements to be considered in a name change were:
- 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 parents;
- 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. Courts should consider only those factors present in the particular circumstances of each case.
Timothy Bobo and Christina Jewell had a child while unmarried. Their relationship ended prior to the birth of the child. Timothy claimed he was not invited to sign the birth certificate or granted any visitation to his new son, Christopher Ryan Jewell. Timothy then took the debate to court, where he stated that he wanted the child’s name changed to Christopher Ryan Bobo.
When reviewing this name change case, the court looked to the relationship of the two unmarried individuals prior to their split. They noted that the relationship was abusive and that the couple doesn’t have much connection anymore. They then went into the mother’s future circumstances. The mother stated that if she were to remarry, she would take the name of her new husband. This would leave the child without a parent having a similar last name. Believing this not to be in the best interest of the child, they decided that the name of the child should be changed to Christopher Ryan Bobo and that Timothy, his father, given visitation and a child support payment schedule.
Ohio Supreme Court Name Change Review
In Re Willhite, where the Supreme Court of Ohio reviewed the name change denied by the Court of Appeals for the child of Janet Williams and Guy Willhite, who had recently divorced. Janet had already completed her name change and had been attempting to change the name of their child, Elli Willhite to Elli Willhite-Williams. The Trial Court granted the name change, and the Appellate Court overturned the change, this led to the Supreme Court review.
During the name change review, the court took into consideration the following:
- Guy Willhite’s opposition to the name change. (The reason the name change didn’t take effect immediately when Ms. Williams requested is because of the opposition of Mr. Willhite. Because of this opposition, a court hearing was granted, which ultimately led to the Supreme Court of Ohio.)
- The Supreme Court looked to the “Best Interests of the Child” where it found that with a hyphenated name both parents would receive credit as to who is responsible for the child; and therefore, upheld the Trial Court’s ruling and changed the name of the child to Williams-Willhite.
This is a significant change from Bobo as the courts no longer look to which parent, but both. Here, whether or not the mother remarried and had a different last name was not discussed. The Court analyzed who maintained responsibility of the child, and then applied the “Best Interests of the Child” test.
Name Change For Juvenile Child Conclusion
While this case differs as to how the parents have separate last names, they both rule on the changing of the last name of a juvenile child. Willhite makes the point that both parents need to receive credit for responsibility of a child. Under Bobo, they seemed to look towards factors that affected the child’s well-being. While here, even though they do apply the “best interests” test, it seems more of a ruling to appease both of the parents rather than to benefit the child. The bottom line is that there often is a preference to compromise in a name change, and hyphenate the child’s last name.
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.