Can your ex-wife change the surname of your children?

When a divorce includes children, the situation can be especially distressing for the father. As a divorced dad, you may not get to see your kids as often, and your ex-wife may not consult you on every issue that arises. One fear you may have is that she will decide to legally change your kids’ surname to her own.

The first step in addressing this concern is to understand the process a custodial parent must go through to modify a minor’s last name. If you disagree with the change, you may be able to prevent it.

Establishment of paternity

More than likely, you established paternity at the time your child was born. If you and your spouse were married at the time, this would have been automatic. If you were not married, both you and your partner should have signed a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, or VAC.

Once signed, this grants you all paternity rights. After 60 days, neither party can rescind the form.

Notification of change 

In Illinois, your ex-wife does not need your approval to submit a request to change the name of your children. However, because you are the father, she must notify you of her intent to do so. As long as you still live in-state, a court-appointed server will visit your home address and deliver this information to you in person.

Your ex-wife cannot proceed until you have received formal notification. With the knowledge that she plans to petition for a name change for your children, you can now attend the hearing and make your objections known.

Proof of a child’s best interests

During the hearing, your ex-wife must prove that changing the children’s surname to her maiden name is in their best interests. She may bring documents to help make her case. In deciding, the judge will consider both her side and yours, as well as the perspective of the children, if they are old enough to give it.

Ultimately, your ex-wife cannot make a name change legal without your knowledge. However, a judge may decide to grant the petition even if you disapprove. Thorough preparation for your hearing can help you get the result you want.

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