name change - child - best interest - burden of proof
T.W. v. D.A. – Superior Court – November 10, 2015
The statute pertaining to name changes provides: “The court of common pleas of any county may by order change the name of any person resident in the county.” 54 Pa.C.S.A. § 702(a). Other than providing for the granting of a petition in the absence of any lawful objection, the statute sets forth no standards for the court’s exercise of its discretion. Our Supreme Court has directed the lower courts to exercise their discretion, in name change cases, in such a way as to “comport with good sense, common decency and fairness to all concerned and to the public.” Petition of Falcucci, 50 A.2d 200, 202 (Pa. 1947).
best interest of child
When considering a contested petition to change the name of a minor child, the best interest of the child is the standard by which a trial court exercises its
discretion. See Grimes, 609 A.2d at 161 (Pa. 1992) (citing comprehensive list of jurisdictions that apply best interest of child standard). In adopting
the “best interests of the child” standard, our Supreme Court stated:
The statutory scheme sets forth no criteria for the court toconsider when exercising its discretion upon a petition for
change of name. The only prohibition within the statute appears at § 705: “Any person violating the provisions of
this chapter for purpose of avoiding payment of taxes or other debts commits a summary offense.” . . . Specific
guidelines [for a child’s best interests] are difficult to establish, for the circumstances in each case will be
unique, as each child has individual physical, intellectual,moral, social and spiritual needs. However, general
considerations should include the natural bonds between parent and child, the social stigma or respect afforded a
particular name within the community, and, where the child is of sufficient age, whether the child intellectually
and rationally understands the significance of changing his or her name.
Id. at 160, 161 (emphasis added). The Court further stated: “Beyond requiring compliance with the notice provisions, the statute provides no additional guidance for courts considering petitions for change of name.” Id. at 160 (quoting Petition of Falcucci, supra at 202. See also In re Change of Name of E.M.L. to E.M.S., 19 A.3d 1068 (Pa. Super. 2011).
burden of proof
In In re: C.R.C., 819 A.2d 558 (Pa. Super. 2003), the court stated that the party petitioning for the minor child’s change of name has the burden of coming forward with evidence that the name change would be in the child’s best interest. Id. at 560. Further, where a petition to change a child’s name is contested, the court must carefully evaluate all of the
relevant factual circumstances to determine if the petitioning parent has established that the change is in the child’s best interest. Id.; see also Petition of Christjohn, 428 A.2d 597 (Pa. Super. 1981).
In this case, the trial court concluded that Father did not meet his burden of showing that the proposed name change was in the child’s best interests. Instead, the court determined that Father sought to change the child’s name to further his own interest in the survival of his surname. Those findings are amply supported by the evidence.
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