No Presumption in Favor of Custodial Parent as to Changing a Child’s Last Name

An interesting opinion today from the New Jersey Supreme Court, Emma v. Evans (N.J. Aug. 12, 2013). In Gubernat v. Deremer, 140 N.J. 120 (1995), a case involving a dispute over a name chosen by the mother at birth (when the parents weren’t living together), the court concluded that,

[I]n contested cases the surname selected by the custodial parent –- the parent primarily charged with making custodial decisions in the child’s best interest –- shall be presumed to be consistent with that child’s best interests, a presumption rebuttable by evidence that a different surname would better serve those interests.”

But in Emma, the court concluded that this presumption in favor of the custodial parent (in this context, referring to the parent with whom the child lives most of the time) should not apply to renaming decisions:

When parents have agreed on a name at birth, the parent seeking the name change in a subsequent dispute must bear the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the name change is in the child’s best interest.

Seems right to me.

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