Can I change my son's name without going through a stepparent adoption procedure?

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Question:

I have full custody of my 12-year old son. His father and I are divorced, and have had no contact for ten years. I have since remarried. Is it possible to change my son's name to my new husband's last name without having to obtain the consent of his absent father or prove abandonment? Stepparent adoption is more than we can afford.

Answer:

Even if you change your son's name, it won't change his legal relationship to your current husband. If you want them to have a parent-child relationship, you should probably reconsider the possibility of stepparent adoption. It sounds like your current husband is actually parenting your son, and an adoption will shift legal parental rights and responsibilities to him, which will protect both your husband and your son. You can often do a stepparent adoption without the expense of a lawyer -- check your state court's website for do-it-yourself information.

Getting the absent father's consent to the adoption -- or proving it is not necessary -- should not be a problem in your case. If you can show the court that the father hasn't communicated with or supported your son for a year or more, the judge should conclude that he has abandoned your son. The judge will then remove the consent requirement.

If you really don't want to go through any court proceeding, you can try an informal name change, but you're unlikely to get very far. Many schools and other governmental agencies won't do a name change without some sort of a court order, and these days you're likely to have a hard time getting a name change accepted without one. You can talk to your child's school and see if they would be willing to accept a letter from you to change his name on their records, but don't be too shocked if they say "no."

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