Can I change my child's last name without the other parent's permission in Wisconsin?

In a family with two parents, it is possible for one parent to change a child's last name without permission from the other parent. However, a name change petition for a minor is much more likely to be approved if both parents agree to the name change.

When a Name Change for a Child Will Be Approved Without Concent

If you want to change your child's surname, there are some circumstances when a name change petition will be approved without the consent of both parents:

  • In a situation where parental rights of one parent have been legally terminated, the other parent may change the child's last name without permission.
  • In a situation where the mother has sole physical custody, is not married, and where paternal rights have not been established, the mother may change the child's last name without permission.
  • In a situation where the petitioning parent has been unable to locate and notify the other parent, the petitioning parent might be able to change the child's name without permission.

When the Other Parent Does Not Consent

In Wisconsin, if one parent petitions to change a child's last name without the other parent, the petitioner must notify the other parent of the petition and give them an opportunity to object. If the non-petitioning parent objects, the petition can still be considered by the court. Whether the court approves the petition depends on the best interest of the child.

The best interest of the child is a broad standard which can include many factors, such as:

  • Length of time the child has had their last name
  • How a name change will affect the child and their future relationship with their parents
  • Need for identity with a new family unit
  • Wishes of the child (or minor) if they are old enough to express
  • Anything else the court deems significant

Establishing that a name change is in the best interest of a child is a difficult task. It will be especially difficult if one parent objects to the name change.

Some parents believe that if they have sole physical custody they should be able to petition (alone) for a name change. This is not the case. Custody is generally not a consideration in determining whether a name change is in the best interests of a child.

Best Scenario for Successful Petition of Name Change for a Child

A successful petition to change a child's last name is most likely when both parents agree to the change and petition together.
Sometimes it is not possible to gain the permission of the other parent. If that is the case, the most likely scenario for a successful petition of a child's name change without the consent of one parent is when that parent has effectively abandoned the child for a significant period.


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