How to Change Your Child’s Name in Illinois
In Illinois, there are two main ways to go about changing your minor child’s name: by agreement, and by Court adjudication of the issue. As with all things related to co-parenting a minor child, the easiest and least costly method by which to proceed with changing your child’s name is to reach an agreement with the other co-parent. In the event that two parents of a minor child cannot agree on a name change, the parent seeking to change the child’s name will have to file a Petition for Name Change of a Minor Child. Within that Petition, the parent seeking the name change will provide information about the request, and it is important that the Petition set forth why the name change is in the child’s best interests.
The law which governs name changes within Illinois states as follows:
© A petitioner may include his or her spouse and adult unmarried children, with their consent, and his or her minor children where it appears to the court that it is for their best interest, in the petition and prayer, and the court’s order shall then include the spouse and children. Whenever any minor has resided in the family of any person for the space of 3 years and has been recognized and known as an adopted child in the family of that person, the application herein provided for may be made by the person having that minor in his or her family.
An order shall be entered as to a minor only if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the change is necessary to serve the best interest of the child. In determining the best interest of a minor child under this Section, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including:
(1) The wishes of the child’s parents and any person acting as a parent who has physical custody of the child.
(2) The wishes of the child and the reasons for those wishes. The court may interview the child in chambers to ascertain the child’s wishes with respect to the change of name. Counsel shall be present at the interview unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties. The court shall cause a court reporter to be present who shall make a complete record of the interview instantaneously to be part of the record in the case.
(3) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parents or persons acting as parents who have physical custody of the child, step-parents, siblings, step-siblings, or any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
The emphasis and primary focus of the court in adjudicating this issue are whether the name change has sufficient indicators that the name change serves a compelling function for the minor child that is separate and distinct from the desires of either parent. As you can see, the court needs to see by clear and convincing evidence (a high standard) that the name change is not only a good idea for the child, but is necessary for the child at the time the change is requested.
Frequently, courts look to whether there is a good affirmative reason to change the minor’s name, like their joining a new family with a step-parent. If there isn’t a clear indicator to the court that the name change is necessary to benefit the child, they are less likely to approve the change.
Using a Child’s Testimony to Support a Name Change
As provided in subparagraph (2) of the law, the court can ask questions of the minor child in an “in-camera” proceeding about why they should have their name changed. This process is separate from the main hearing on the name change, and the child’s testimony can be used as evidence for or against the name change. An attorney defending a name change petition can argue that an in-camera interview is not necessary to adjudicate the issue and could potentially harm the child. Once the Court decides whether the in-camera interview should proceed, a skilled family law attorney defending against a name change will prepare for this in-camera interview by narrowing the scope of the questions, as well as ensuring that the process has a limited potential for harm to the child who will be going through the interview.
Name Change Disputes in Illinois
Illinois courts have been asked to review name-change disputes, and have established a standard of review for these matters. In the case In re Marriage of Piegari, the Court overturned a granting of a mother’s petition to change her children’s names to include her surname as a dashed last name, even where she had the vast majority of parenting time and was therefore responsible for enrolling the children in school and extracurricular activities. In Stockton v. Oldenburg, even when the court agreed that adding the father’s name to the child’s surname would be nice and would affirm the relationship with the father, the court was unable to find that that was enough to find that the change was in the child’s best interests. Stockton v. Oldenburg, 305 Ill. App. 3d 897.
In contrast, in cases where the court granted a disputed name change, there was typically an extraordinary circumstance compelling the change. In In re M.E., the court on appeal overturned a previous denial of a change of name petition, because the biological father of the child was in prison for a sentence of fifty (50) years for holding the child’s mother at gunpoint. In re M.E., 2019 IL App (3d) 170759. The appellate court considered the following factors sufficiently compelling to grant the change in surname: the child considered her step-father to be her father, and the biological father and family of the biological father had little or no contact with her, and the father’s incarceration, and the violent circumstances giving rise to his incarceration. In re M.E., 2019 IL App (3d) 170759.