Cart 0

Changing a Child's Last Name in California

Changing your child's last name can seem like an overwhelmingly complex legal task. While it's not easy or quick, there may be good reasons to do it. Here's how to change your child's last name in California.

Why change a child’s last name?

Parents may change their child's last name for a variety of reasons. One reason is divorce. When parents divorce, the child may take the last name of the parent who has primary custody. This is done to make it easier for the child to establish a new home and life with that parent.

Another reason parents might change their child's last name is adoption. When a child is adopted, the parents often choose to give the child their last name. This helps to create a sense of unity between the adoptive parents and the child. It also sends a message that the child is now part of the family and is loved and accepted just as they are.

When parents decide to change their child's last name, there are a few different options to consider. One option is to hyphenate the child's last name to reflect both parents' last names. Another option is to give the child a new last name that reflects an adoption. A third option is to give the child the mother's maiden name as the child's last name. Each of these options has benefits and drawbacks.

  • Hyphenating a child's last name can be a great way to keep both parents' names associated with their identity. For legal and emotional reasons, this can be important. However, hyphenation can also lead to confusion and an extra-long last name.
  • Giving a child a new last name that reflects an adoption is a way to celebrate the adoption and welcome the child into the family. It can help the child feel like they belong in the family. However, some adopted children might find it difficult to keep track of all the different last names in their lives.
  • Giving a child their mother's maiden name can be a way to keep the mother's legacy alive. It can also help connect the child more closely with their mother. However, this is not the “traditional” way a child’s last name is established in the U.S., and it could lead to confusion.

Is a name change in the best interest of the child?

There is a lot in a name. Do you know anyone with the last name Brewer, Butler, Sadler, Forrester, Potter, Miller, Mason, or Weaver? These are all names describing a profession. How about Dawson, Jackson, Jefferson, Addison, or Emerson? These are all names describing who the father is by adding “son” to the name. All of this is to say that surnames have a literal history to them, and changing a surname can be a big decision.

  • In a divorce where both parents agree to change their child's last name, you can include this change in the Divorce Judgment and/or Marital Settlement Agreement.
  • If the parents do not agree, the parent who wishes to change the name must file a motion using the FL-300 form, and the court will decide. In making that determination, the court will be guided by the best interests of the child. This means they will consider any ways the change would benefit or disadvantage the child.

Factors the court will look at when determining a child's best interests may include the following:

  • The length of time the child has used a particular name
  • The nature of the child's relationship with each parent
  • The effect of any proposed name change on those relationships
  • The child's need to identify with a particular family unit through the use of a common name

The court will consider any benefits the child derives from the last name they already have. For example, does it promote a close connection with the parent whose surname the child shares? The court will also consider the benefits that would arise from a change. For example, a younger child may feel more connected to both sides of their family with a hyphenated last name. 

5 steps to changing a child’s last name in California

Changing a child's last name in California requires certain steps. If you haven't cleared this with your child's other parent – or you suspect they'd have a problem with it – you must take an extra step, noted below.

1. File a petition with the court

You'll need to fill out several forms:

When you file these forms, you'll also need to pay a filing fee. This will be around $400 to $500. If you cannot afford the fee, you can request a fee waiver by filing another form.

2. Notify your child's other parent

This is the extra step mentioned above that you'd need to take if both parents do not agree on the name change. Your child’s other parent has a right to know about your request. Thus, you must inform them. Further, you may need to prove to the court that you provided this information. It’s best to use a process server for this purpose.

3. Publish your request in a newspaper

You must publish a notice in the newspaper once per week for four weeks. You'll provide Form NC-120 to the newspaper and tell them you need to publish it once per week for four weeks. You can use any established daily or weekly newspaper in your area. They will likely charge you a fee.

4. Attend a hearing

If both parents agree to the name change, your former spouse may be able to waive their appearance at the hearing. If they don't agree, both must appear at the hearing, and both must present their case before the judge.

5. Get a decree

If the judge approves your name change request for your child, they'll sign a decree changing your child's name. Note that this order doesn't automatically change your child's name everywhere. You must still change it on school records, bank accounts, passports, and other legal documents.

FAQ about changing a child’s last name in California

How much does a name change cost?

It depends on your location in California and what your local clerk charges to file the paperwork. Generally, you can expect to spend upwards of $500 on court costs. Remember that you can request a fee waiver if you cannot afford these fees.

Can I change my child’s last name without their other parent’s permission?

Generally, no. If your child's other parent has had their parental rights revoked, you can, but that is a rare scenario.

How do I change my child’s name on their birth certificate?

Once a judge has approved your child's name change, you'll get copies of the order. You'll need to take that order – probably a certified copy that will cost several dollars – to your local records office. They can then update your child's birth certificate with their new last name.

Hello Divorce offers a wealth of free online information as well as services Californians can use. Click here to view more articles about California divorce and other legal processes.