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What's in a Name? Changing your own name or your child's name as part of a family law case


If you are going through a dissolution of marriage or a legal separation, changing your own name is relatively straightforward. Colorado law now allows any party to a decree of dissolution or legal separation to request restoration of a prior full name at any time after the entry of the decree. C.R.S. §14-10-120.2(1). That means that the request does not even have to be made while the case is still pending – you can ask for the name change years after a divorce or legal separation is final. You just have to file a verified motion and affidavit in that same case and include the caption and case number for the existing case and a sworn statement that restoring your prior full name is not detrimental to any person. C.R.S. §14-10-120.2(2).

That request can even be filed ex parte, which means you do not have to copy the other party on your motion, and the other party does not have any right to object to you changing your name. One question we sometimes get asked is whether the other party can force you to change your name, and the simple answer to that question is “no.” Whether you change your name after a divorce or legal separation is entirely your own choice. For many people, changing their name after a divorce can help them to move forward with their lives. For others, it is not worth the hassle of changing all of their accounts, identification, etc.

The benefit of changing your name as part of a divorce case is that you do not have to jump through the same hoops that are normally required for a civil name change, which includes publishing notice of your intent to change your name and providing background checks on yourself.

Changing a child’s name is a bit more complicated than changing your own name, but it is still possible when a court agrees that the name change is in the child’s best interests. Factors that the court will look at when deciding to change the child’s name include how long the child has used their existing name, the potential impact changing the name would have on the child’s relationship with the other parent, whether the child has a preference, and any misconduct by a parent that would justify a name change. D.K.W. v. J.L.B., 807 P.2d 1222, 1224 (Colo. App 1990). The court is also supposed to consider the reason each party wants or opposes a name change for the child, the identification the child feels as part of a family unit, whether changing the name will cause the child any insecurity or lack of identity, and the potential embarrassment, inconvenience, or discomfort that may result if the child’s last name is different from their primary residential parent’s last name. D.K.W. v. J.L.B., 807 P.2d 1222, 1224 (Colo. App 1990).

One other important thing to note is that if the parties disagree about whether to change a child’s name, you should make sure your motion asking to change a name or your response opposing the request includes substantive reasons that your position is in the child’s best interests. Also, if you want a hearing and a chance to present the court with testimony and evidence about that issue, you need to ask for one in your motion or response. I recently helped a client with an appeal where a mother asked to change the children’s names to be hyphenated and include the last names of both parents. The father objected, but his response did not specify why he objected – just that he opposed Mother’s request. Father’s response also failed to ask for a hearing. The trial court granted Mother’s request to change the children’s name based on the motion she filed and the record already in front of it, and the Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. Although that case was not published, it includes useful citations to existing law that support that ruling. In re Marriage of Sheeran, 21CA2013 (January 19, 2023).

Typically, when a parent is asking a court to change the child’s name in some way that would allow the child to have both of their parents’ last names as part of their own name, a court is likely to agree that the name change is in the child’s best interest. From the child’s perspective, that allows the child to share an identity with both of their parents and can help them feel less like they have lost one of their parents in a divorce.

In some cases, a parent wants to change the child’s last name to replace their existing last name with a new one. Those cases can be more challenging, because they do create a risk that the child will feel less connected to the parent whose name they previously shared. There are situations, however, in which a court can find that a name change that entirely removes one parent’s name from the child’s name is in that child’s best interest. If you have questions about how to go about changing your child’s name (or your own name) or if you need some guidance about the best arguments to help you get the court to see why a name change is in your child’s best interests, it is best to consult with an attorney who can advise you through that process.

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