Name Changes in Minnesota Divorce and Custody Cases
- by Eric C. Nelson, Attorney

I. Name Changes of Parties in Divorce.

Outside of divorce proceedings, a name change is a separate legal action requiring a separate case filing fee, various forms, and a court hearing with witnesses. [1] As part of a divorce proceeding, however, a name change can be easily obtained as part of the final divorce decree -- with rare exceptions -- simply for the asking. [2] A name change in a divorce is not limited to restoration of one's maiden name. Any new (legal) name may be obtained by either party.

One consideration: one reason many wives choose not to change their names in the divorce is that they want to continue to have the same last name as their children born of the marriage. Although having a different last name than one's children does not affect one's legal rights, it can lead to confusion in some situations.


II. Name Changes of Minor Children.

A parent has the right to apply for a name change on behalf of his or her minor child. [1] However, this is not normally granted over the objection of the other parent. The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that:

". . . judicial discretion in ordering a change of a minor's surname against the objection of one parent should be exercised with great caution and only where the evidence is clear and compelling that the substantial welfare of the child necessitates such change." [3]

In a subsequent case the Minnesota Supreme Court provided further guidance, holding that the name change of a minor child may only be granted when it is determined to be in the child's best interests, which the Court held to include the following
non-exclusive list of factors: [4]

  • the child's preference;

  • the effect of the change of the child's surname on the preservation and the development of the child's relationship with each parent;

  • the length of time the child has borne a given name;

  • the degree of community respect associated with the present and the proposed surname; and

  • the difficulties, harassment or embarrassment, that the child may experience from bearing the present or the proposed surname.

That said, although they can be difficult to obtain over the objection of the other parent, name changes can be granted under the right circumstances. A parent who desires such a change should not assume it is hopeless, just as a parent objecting to such a change should not take its denial for granted.


Endnotes:
  1. Minnesota Statute section 259.10 et seq.
  2. Minnesota Statute section 518.27.
  3. Robinson v. Hansel, 223 N.W.2d 138 (Minn. 1974) (reversing name change granted by trial court over father's objection).
  4. In Re Saxton, 309 N.W.2d 298 (Minn. 1981) (affirming denial of name change).