Children born out of wedlock often take their mothers’ maiden names as their surnames at birth. When biological fathers subsequently seek to legitimate their parent-child relationships, some of them pursue a change of name from the mother’s name to their own. This article explores the procedures and standards governing children’s name changes in legitimation actions.
Georgia law allows a biological father of a child born out of wedlock to render his relationship with the child legitimate by filing a petition in the appropriate superior court.(1) The granting of legitimation enables the child “to inherit from his father, to enjoy his name and like amenities.”(2)
A biological father who seeks to change his child’s surname must request the name change in his legitimation petition and state the proposed new name.(3) If a court grants the father’s legitimation petition, its order must “specify the name by which the child shall be known.”(4) Additionally, upon establishment of a biological father’s paternity by a court of competent jurisdiction, “the name of the father and the surname of the child shall be entered on the certificate of birth in accordance with the finding and order of the court.”(5)
A court cannot automatically grant a father’s requested name change. Rather, the trial court must consider the best interest of the child when making a finding with regard to the minor child’s surname.(6) A trial court retains broad discretion to change the name of a child though, provided the court does not abuse its discretion by ignoring the best interests of the child.(7)
Neither statute nor case law sets standards for determining a child’s best interest regarding a requested name change.(8) An example of a request found to serve a child’s best interest occurred where a father presented evidence a) that a change of name from “Riggins” (mother’s maiden name) to “Riggins Stirgus” (adding father’s surname) would strengthen his bond with his son and ensure that the child bonded with father’s relatives, and b) that mother had changed her surname from Riggins upon her remarriage.(9) As another example, a court granted a name change to a biological father where the child had used father’s surname and expressed his desire to have his father’s surname, and the court agreed that the child needed finality on the subject of his surname.(10)
(1) O.C.G.A. § 19-7-22(b). (2) In re Pickett, 131 Ga.App. 159, 160, n. 1, 205 S.E.2d 522 (1974). (3) O.C.G.A. § 19-7-22(c). (4) O.C.G.A. § 19-7-22(d)(1). (5) O.C.G.A. § 31-10-9(e)(3). (6) See Denney v. Denney, 300 Ga. 622, 625, 797 S.E.2d 456 (2017); Riggins v. Stirgus, 319 Ga.App. 790, 791, 738 S.E.2d 635 (2013). (7) Brittingham v. Dattilio, 317 Ga.App. 548, 549, 731 S.E.2d 784 (2012). (8) Riggins, supra, 319 Ga.App. at 791. (9) Id. (10) Brittingham, supra, 317 Ga.App. at 549-550.