An issue that periodically comes up in Georgia family law cases is a potential name change for a child affected by the action. Whether a divorce action where the mother is returning to her maiden name, or a legitimation action where the new legal father wants the child to have his last name, changing the last name of a child can be an issue to be decided in the case. The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently heard a case where a father sought to change the name of his child through his legitimation petition. Riggins v. Stirgus, A12A2512 (2013). In that case, the trial court granted the name change after hearing evidence of the father’s close relationship with the child, and the father testified that the name change would strengthen the father’s bond with the child and ensure that the child bonded with the father’s relatives. Id. at 3. In addition, the mother had remarried and taken her new husband’s name; thus, she no longer had the same last name as the child. Id.
Although the mother appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence showing that the name change was in the child’s best interest, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling. The Court held that the child’s best interest was considered, and seemed particularly moved by the fact that the mother and child no longer shared the same last name. Id. at 4.
Although the name change in this case was affirmed, it is important to note that a party must prove that the name change is in the child’s best interests. OCGA §19-7-22. Both parties can present evidence as to how the name change would impact the child’s interests and the court will make a decision accordingly.