How to apply for a court order to change your child’s name

You can apply for a court order to get permission to change your child’s name if you can’t get consent to the change of name from another parent or guardian with parental responsibility for your child.

You should first consider all the alternatives to getting a court orderApplying for a court order is difficult and should be only used as a last resort, and the court would certainly expect you to have tried to compromise first.

Before applying for any kind of court order you should try to assess —

  • how likely it is that the court will agree with you and grant the order
  • what kind of effect the process will have on you and your child
  • how much the application will cost in terms of money, your time, and stress to you and your family

A solicitor can help you work out these things, and can help you decide if applying for a court idea is a good idea for you and your child.  A solicitor, of course, is an extra cost, and you aren’t obliged to use a solicitor — it’s possible to make the application on your own.

What sort of court order to apply for

Normally you would apply for a Specific Issue Order for permission to change your child’s name.  However any type of court order that deals with the issue of permitting the change of name is acceptable.

It’s also possible to apply for a Specific Issue Order to remove the other parent’s parental responsibility.  This is an extreme step to take — the courts tend to be strongly in favour of parents keeping parental responsibility.  It would only be appropriate if, for example, the other parent has abused your child, or they’ve gone to prison for a violent crime.

How to make the application

England & Wales

The type of application you need to make depends on —

  • whether there are any court orders currently “in force” for your child
  • whether or not you want to change their surname (or just the first name)

You’ll need to make a free-standing application under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, if the child’s been placed for adoption (or an adoption agency has been authorised to place them), and an Adoption Order hasn’t been made yet.

You’ll need to make a free-standing application under subsection 33(7) of the Children Act 1989 ↗, if the child is subject to a Care Order or interim Care Order.

You’ll need to make a free-standing application under subsection 13(1) / 14C(3) of the Children Act if —

  • you want to change your child’s surnameand
  • your child hasn’t been placed for adoption (and isn’t going to be); and
  • your child is not subject to any Care Order, interim Care Order, or Placement Order; and
  • your child is subject to —

    • a Child Arrangements Order which includes arrangements relating to who your child is to live with, or when your child is to live with any person
    • a Residence Order
    • a Special Guardianship Order

In all other cases, you’ll need to apply for a Specific Issue Order (and not a free-standing application).

Scotland

If your child is resident in Scotland, you won’t normally need to apply for a court order to change their name.  You must consult with everyone with parental responsibilities and rights, and take their views into account, however, you can still change your child’s name even if someone with parental responsibilities and rights doesn’t agree with it.

If you don’t want to consult the other parent, you should apply for a Specific Issue Order — as in the rest of the U.K.

You’ll need to prepare an initial writ in the format of form form G1 ↗ and send it to the sheriff court nearest to where your child normally lives.  It’s important that the writ is set out correctly, and it’s a good idea to get a solicitor to help you.

Although you aren’t required to have a solicitor represent you in court, the procedures in the Scottish courts are generally more complex than in the rest of the U.K., so it’s recommended.

You will usually have to pay a fee of £ 87 to apply for a court order about children.  You may be able to get a discount if you’re on specific benefits or have a low income.  ☞ Find out if you’re entitled to an exemption from paying court fees ↗

Your application will be dealt with using the ordinary cause procedure.  There’s more information about this on the Scottish Courts website ↗.  You can also look at chapter 33 of the Ordinary Cause Rules ↗, which is the relevant chapter for family cases.

Northern Ireland

You need to fill in form C1 (FPC) ↗ and return it to the magistrates’ court nearest to where your child lives.  It’s important that every section is filled in correctly.  ☞ Find a court in Northern Ireland ↗

If the child is at risk from abuse or ill-treatment you’ll also have to fill in supplementary form C1AA (FPC) ↗.  You should read the notes for guidance ↗ to help you.

You will usually have to pay a fee of £ 50 to apply for a court order about children.  You may be able to get a discount if you’re on specific benefits or have a low income.  ☞ Find out if you have to pay court fees ↗

You can also make the application to a county court, but you would need to fill in form C1 (FCC) ↗ instead, and the fee would be £ 75.  If the child is at risk from abuse, you’d also need to fill in supplementary form C1A (FCC) ↗, using the appropriate notes for guidance ↗.

How likely it is that the court will grant the order (England & Wales)

☞ See also: How the courts make a decision

Before a court allows anyone to change the name of a child, they will apply the welfare test (as laid down in Dawson v Wearmouth) to decide if it would be in the child’s best interests. 

The courts’ paramount consideration is the welfare of the child, so if — weighing everything together — they believe a change of name would be in your child’s best interests, they should allow it.

Changes of surname

The court tends to resist consenting to changes of surname, because —

  • the initial registration of the child’s name is thought to be a profound matter, and that — other things being equal — it’s in the long-term interests of a child for them to be known by their birth name
  • the child’s surname is seen as an important link to their father (or mother, as the case may be), and an important part of the child’s identity — perhaps even more so when that parent is absent
  • it’s thought that there isn’t anything especially wrong or bad for children to bear a different surname from other members of their family, and so wanting to fit in with the rest of a family is not given a lot of weight

There must be clear reasons why it’s in the best interests of a child, to justify a change of surname.  The best interests of the child are the courts’ paramount consideration, and short-term issues such as convenience and avoiding confusion aren’t given much weight.

If your child bears the surname of an absent parent, then your application is more likely to succeed the longer they have been absent for, and the smaller their contribution to your child’s upbringing — and certainly if their contribution has actually been negative or harmful.

The court will take a child’s views into account, and if the child themself wants to change surname the court is more likely to agree.  However, your child’s wishes actually count for surprisingly little, especially with younger children.  But the older and more mature the child is, the more weight will be given to their views.

If your child currently has one parent’s name, you will find it much easier to get permission to only the other parent’s surname (making a double-barrelled name) — and not remove the other parent’s surname — because then you would not break the link of identity to that parent.

Changes of first name

Any proposed change of first name is also subject to the welfare test (as laid down in Dawson v Wearmouth) — as with a change of surname — and the court will only allow it if they think it’d be in the child’s best interests. 

But in general, the court is more likely to consent to changes of forenames, because they don’t have the same kind of link to the child’s parents that their surname has.

As with disputes about surnames, the court will make their decision based on what they think is in the best interests of the child, and if the child is sufficiently old and mature, they will give a lot of weight to the child’s own opinions.

The court will tend to resist to changes of forenames because — as was held in Dawson v Wearmouth — “… other things being equal, it is in the long-term interests of the child that the name by which he is known should also be the name which appears on his birth certificate.”

Thus — especially for young children — there must be clear reasons why it’s in the best interests of the child, to justify a change of forenames.

Litigation over first names are much less common than over surnames, though, because —

  • the forenames usually aren’t shared with one of the parents, so parents are more likely to agree to a name being changed or taken away
  • forenames are thought to be less concrete in character than surnames, and — in practice — a child can be called by different forenames from what’s written on their birth certificate  (See: Re H (a Child) (Child’s First Name) [2002] EWCA Civ 190)
  • no court order is needed to change a child’s first name “within the community of the primary home”, e.g. with “national health services, local educational services or community activities”  (See: Re H)