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Paternity and Naming a Child in Florida

Traditional approaches to surnames—a wife taking her husband's name, a child being automatically given the surname of the father—is entrenched even in today's society. Cultural naming norms have not changed as dramatically as some researchers had expected they would. However, certain laws have been changed to reflect a fairer, more egalitarian approach to naming, including Florida's approach to a child's surname after a determination of paternity.

Men's Names Remain Common Choice for Familial Naming

According to the Wall Street Journal, although the second half of the twentieth century saw a rise in married women keeping their maiden names, this trend peaked in the 1990s, at about 23%. In fact, one recent study hinted at a renewed rise in women taking their husband's last names.

Certain segments of society are more likely than others to abandon traditional naming norms (for example, women who marry between the ages of 35 and 39 are over five times as likely to not change their names as those who marry between 20 and 24). However, it remains true than men's last names hold a prominent place in naming decisions of families.

Florida's Approach to Naming

Florida law has a relatively simple approach to the naming of a child born to custodial, married parents. The statute encourages married couples to jointly name the child—but provides that, if this couple fails to agree on a name, the child's last name will be a combination of both parents' chosen names, separated by hyphen, in alphabetical order.

Where the parents are unmarried, it is the custodial parent who chooses the name. Generally, this means that the mother will choose the name. Laws provide, as a default matter, that a mother has custody of her children at birth. And, as illustrated by the Florida appeals court case of Girten v . Andreu, even if the father obtains a court-order determining paternity, his naming rights are limited.

In Girten, the child was named by the unmarried mother, who then filed a paternity suit seeking child support. Paternity and child support were granted by the trial court—as was a change of the child's last name to that of the father's.

The appeals court was emphatic that this was an attentive and committed father. He had played an active role in the child's life and—court order aside—had provided financially for the child since birth. But it reversed the order changing the name, holding that paternity alone did not automatically entitle the father to the child's name change.

"This notion," wrote the court, "harkens back to outdated societal concepts of legitimacy, morality, and inheritance. Instead, the standard to be applied in changing a child's name is the best interest standard."

The court went on to describe that this standard required some affirmative showing that the name change was needed to better the child's welfare. Because, in Girten, the only reason given for the change was the father's desire for it, it was unwarranted.

Contact a South Florida Family Lawyer

If you are seeking paternity, a divorce, or have questions on any other family law-related matter, please reach out to the South Florida family law attorneys at at Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

Categories: Family Law, Paternity