We sometimes get questions from our clients on whether they can unilaterally change their children’s surname after the divorce is finalised. Here is a summary of the law.
Q: Can I change my child’s surname after a divorce?
Thinking of changing your child’s surname after a divorce? Here’s what you need to know before going ahead.
1. The basic position for children under 21
To change a child’s name by deed poll, both parents must consent to the change, unless one parent is deceased or uncontactable. They would both need to sign the deed poll in the presence of a lawyer and then submit the document to the relevant authorities.
Do note that the name change will only be reflected in ICs or passports: birth certificates cannot be amended (unless the child is under 12 months old at the time of the change).
2. The position after divorce
The same principle applies. Where the parents are divorced, children under 21 can only change their surnames if both biological parents give their consent.
3. What if the other parent refuses to consent? Can I go ahead?
You would need to apply to the court and be able to demonstrate strong reasons for the change. Regardless of the oft-quoted line from Shakespeare – that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet – the law takes a quite different stance and acknowledges that one’s name carries great symbolic and practical weight.
In a leading 1996 case on the topic, the court recognised that a child’s surname represents their link to their biological father, and forms a facet of their identity. As such, a child’s surname should not be changed unless there are compelling reasons to do so.
In keeping with the child-centric approach that underpins Singapore family law, the courts will place the welfare of the child as their foremost consideration. They will only permit the change if it is in the child’s best interests. The court will also consider factors such as the reason(s) why the change is sought, how long the child has lived with their current surname, the impact of the change on the child, and, where the child is sufficiently mature, the child’s own wishes.
4. What if I have sole custody?
In the same case mentioned above, the court held a sole custody order does not empower the parent with sole custody to unilaterally change the child’s surname. You would still need the other parent’s consent.
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ABOUT PKWA LAW
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