Double Barrelled Surnames – The Importance of Both Parents

It is established law that an application to change a child’s name is ‘not a question to be resolved without reference to the child’s welfare’ Dawson v Wearmouth [1999] UKHL 18 [1999] 2 W.L.R 960. Courts, when hearing applications for a change of name, give consideration to both the welfare checklist and the factors summarised in Re W, Re A, Re B (Change of Name) [1999] 3 FCR 337, [1999] 2 FLR 930. Yet does this apply equally when the application is not to change a child’s surname completely, but rather to add the surname of the other parent following separation?

In W (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 735 permission to appeal was granted after the lower court made the decision made to change a child’s name by the addition of the Father’s name as a middle name, without a welfare report or a thorough analysis of the child’s welfare and risk of harm. It is now common practice that a welfare report is directed in any such application, evidencing that the consideration has evolved, to a full and robust investigation into the welfare impact of the proposed name change.

The reported cases in which the Court has sanctioned a complete change of surname are extreme. From a temporary change of surname being permitted to protect children from the online activities of a Father which the Court considered constituted ‘bizarre conduct’ (Re F (Children; contact, name, parental responsibility) [2014] EWFC 42), to a change of surname to safeguard children who had already been relocated three times to protect them from abuse (Re F (Contact) [2007] EWHC 2543 (Fam), [2008] 1 FLR 1163). As recently as this month the Court continued to apply and endorse the guidance of the existing case law, finding in B and C (Change of Names – Parental Responsibility – Evidence) [2017] EWHC 3250 (Fam), that the children’s safety required a change of both first and surnames.

In contrast there is a speaking lack of reported cases in which the Court is asked to change a child’s surname from single to double barrelled. Yet it is common to hear from parents seeking a Specific Issue Order to allow this, most often from parents who claim to be struggling to manage the practical realities of life with a young child whose name does not mirror their own, facing difficulties at school, doctors and with travel.

In 2001 the Court of Appeal, when refusing permission for a change of surname, urged the parents in Re R (Surname: Using Both Parents) [2001] EWCA 1344 to consider a double-barrelled surname, relying in part on the Spanish heritage of the child and the common practice of that country. Lady Justice Hale concluded that ‘parents and courts should be much more prepared to contemplate the use of both surnames in an appropriate case, because that is to recognise the importance of both parents’ [paragraph 15].

In the welfare analysis of the change for an older child, the child’s wishes and feelings and the practical impact of a change of name will of course weigh heavily with the Court – the child knows their name and is known by it at school and in social circles. For a younger child of separated parents however it must be questioned whether the starting point has quietly shifted. The extreme caution applied by the Court in changing a surname from one parent’s to the other’s no doubt continues but does our legal system now regularly endorse, and even encourage, changing a child’s surname from single to double barrelled following the parents’ separation, for both practical and emotional reasons?

It seems unlikely that the lack of reported cases in this area is attributable to separated parents inevitably concluding this issue by agreement. The underlying reality, albeit unreported, must be that the welfare analysis frequently concludes that it is advantageous for a young child to have such a change of name, enabling both maternal and paternal heritage to be reflected.

Marie Huggins

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