There Are No Specific Rules in the Statute
Video Transcribed: Can a mother file to change her child’s name to the name of stepfather in Oklahoma? I’m Tulsa attorney James Wirth. We’re talking about name changes under Oklahoma law. And in previous videos, we talked about that basically anybody can file for a name change, including a minor child so long as it’s the next friend, which is generally a parent or a guardian filing on behalf of the child. And we also talked about the notice requirements that under Oklahoma statute it only requires notice by publication.
But what about when it comes to a minor child? Although there are no specific rules in the statute, we have a court case that decided that issue definitively, and its Application of Tubbs by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It’s 1980 OK 177, and what that provided is that in the case of a minor child notice is required to be given to the other parent, and an opportunity to object.
Specifically, what that case says is that every divorced parent, custodial or not, whose paternal or maternal bond remains un-severed, has a cognizant claim to having his or her child continue to bear the very same legal name like that by which it was known at the time the marriage was dissolved. It ultimately held that rather than actually having to hold that issue, there was a narrow issue we got to decide in that case, because the notice was not given to the father in that case.
It held, we merely hold that a decree changing a minor child’s surname without personal notice to a living, non-custodial parent whose whereabouts are known or are readily ascertainable from available sources at hand, and his parental and maternal bonds remains un-severed, falls short of compliance with the minimal standards of due process.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that due process, not the statute, but the constitutional due process requires notice to the other parent if you’re trying to do a name change of that parent. But this holding applied to ex-husbands when the parties were married. If the parties are not married, does that same notice apply? And it does.
There’s a later case from 2015. It’s 2015 OK CIV APP 4, In the Matter of the Application of J.B.A.L to Change her name, and that held that the court, under the statute for a name change, is broad enough to permit the court to change the last name of a child over the objection of a natural parent when the parents have never been married to one another provided the objecting parents receive proper notice.
So one thing clear, you do have to give notice to the other parent. They do have to have an opportunity to object and appear at the hearing. Then at that point, can the name change be done over the parent’s objection?
And the case law is a little bit mixed on it, but essentially if the parties were never married, if the parents were never married, then the court can do it over that parent’s objection. In this case, it was over the father’s objection.
In the cases that deal with where the parents were married, most of those cases where the trial judge granted the motion for name change over father’s objection, where they used to be married, the appellate court reversed it and held essentially that notice requirements were not made there.
So try to sum it up a little bit. You have to give notice to the other parent. The other parent does have an opportunity to object. If the parents were previously married, that it’s going to be more difficult to do a name change over the other parent’s objection.
If the parents were not previously married, then the court can grant that under the right circumstances and it will stand on appeal. So, this is a very complicated issue because the statute says one thing, case law provides a little more detailed, but it’s also a little bit conflicting.
So if you’re dealing with this circumstance, the best advice I can tell you is that if you wanted to change the child’s name to your stepfather’s name, under those circumstances, the courts much prefer that you do a step-parent adoption if that is qualified for.
And then that would sever the parent-child relationship with the natural father. And then the person whose name the child is getting is actually the legal father, with all the rights and responsibilities.
The courts would much prefer that, but if you don’t want to go that route, it may be possible under the right circumstances, but it may be complicated. You want to talk to an attorney about those specifics. To schedule a consult with an Oklahoma attorney, to discuss a name change in Oklahoma.