Article reference: UK-IA-CHN15

Can I change my child's name?

Changing a child’s name by deed poll is a relatively straightforward process provided that all people with parental responsibility for the child agree. This article will help you identify the people with parental responsibility for your child in the eyes of the law, enabling you to obtain their consent and effectively complete the process.

Children over the age of 16 must apply for their own change of name - parental consent is not required.

What is a Deed Poll?

In order to change the name recorded on all official documents, you need to produce documentary evidence of your name change. A deed poll document (also called a deed of change of name) provides this evidence. You can read more about this type of document here.

When changing a child’s name, this document must be coupled with letters of consent from those with parental responsibility. We recommend you obtain this consent first, before obtaining and completing the document.

What is parental responsibility?

The legal term ‘parental responsibility’ applies to people who have all the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities for a child. People within this group are responsible for, and have the right to be consulted about, the child’s health, education and welfare.

Categories of parental responsibility

Maternal parental responsibility

In UK jurisdictions, mothers automatically acquire parental responsibility at birth.

A mother will have sole parental responsibility if none of the categories that give parental responsibility to a father apply. Please note that having sole custody of a child is not the same as having sole parental responsibility. In most cases where a mother is a child’s sole carer, there will still be joint parental responsibility.

Paternal parental responsibility

The situation for fathers is more complicated. The legal rules determining paternal parental responsibility differ depending on the father’s relationship status. They also vary according to where in the UK the child’s birth was registered.

Married fathers

The most straightforward scenario in which a father gains parental responsibility is where the mother was married to the father when their child was born. Paternal parental responsibility is applied in this case in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is also applied on similar terms in Scotland, with the relevant date extending back to include where the father and mother were married when the child was conceived.

Unmarried fathers

An unmarried father can acquire parental responsibility in a number of ways, depending on where the birth was registered:

  • Subsequent marriage to the mother (in England, Wales and Scotland only)
  • Being registered as the child’s father on the birth certificate from 1st December 2003 (in England and Wales)
  • Being registered as the child’s father on the birth certificate for births registered from 4th May 2006 (in Scotland)
  • Being registered as the child’s father on the birth certificate for births registered from 15th April 2002 (in Northern Ireland)
  • Being awarded parental responsibility by a court (anywhere in the UK)
  • Entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother (anywhere in the UK)
  • Being granted a Custody or Residence Order by a court (anywhere in the UK)
  • Being appointed a Guardian by a court (anywhere in the UK)

Step-fathers

Parental responsibility can be obtained by a step-father through:

  • Being awarded parental responsibility by a court (in England and Wales only)
  • Entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother (anywhere in the UK)Being granted a Custody or Residence Order by a court (anywhere in the UK)
  • Being appointed as a Guardian by a court (anywhere in the UK)
  • Adopting the child (anywhere in the UK)

The reason paternal parental responsibility revolves around a man’s relationship with a child’s mother is because the definition of ‘father’ throughout UK law is based on a legal presumption instead of biology.

The law presumes that if a mother is married when the child is born, the mother’s husband is the father – unless evidence to the contrary can be produced. The law presumes that if a mother is not married when the child is born, the person recorded on her child’s birth certificate is the father – unless evidence proves otherwise.

The written consent of a father with parental responsibility is necessary to make any changes to a child’s name, even double-barrelling the surname. As a general rule, this is true even if parental responsibility was gained through a marriage that has since broken down and the father is not in regular contact with the child.

Depending on the overlap of the relationships outlined above, the consent of more than one paternal figure may be required. For example, if a child’s step-father has legal parental responsibility in addition to a father who gained parental responsibility by virtue of marriage or on other legal grounds. The consent of all people with parental responsibility for a child must be obtained.

Other categories of parental responsibility

Adoption

Regardless of their marital status, the parents named on a child’s adoption certificate acquire parental responsibility. Adoption also removes all prior parental responsibility.

Foster carers

Parental responsibility in these circumstances will depend on the legal process used by the Local Authority to place the child with carers. This will be detailed in the child’s Essential Information Record.

Family and friend carers

Only specific placement methods will give carers of this nature parental responsibility:

  • Being granted a Residence Order by a court
  • Being granted a Special Guardianship Order by a court
  • Being appointed a testamentary guardian upon the death of the parents

Loss of parental responsibility

Parental responsibility is only lost if:

  • the permission of the court is given on application by the person with parental responsibility; or
  • the permission of the court is given on application by the child; or
  • a court order terminates parental responsibility; or
  • the child is adopted; or
  • the person with parental responsibility dies.

Exceptions to the consent requirements

There are certain situations in which the consent requirements are adapted or excluded:

The legal father is not the biological father

In this case a child’s name can be changed without consent from the legal father. He will still be required to contribute to the process by providing a letter of acknowledgment that he is not the biological father and the results of a DNA paternity test confirming this.

Unknown whereabouts

It may be possible for a name change to take place without the consent of a party with parental responsibility if the application is supported by evidence that reasonable efforts to contact the absentee parent were unsuccessful.

By Court order

A court can give leave (permission) to change a child’s name without the consent of all parties with parental responsibility.

If the child is over 16

Children over 16 must apply to change their own names - parental consent is not required.

Summary

The process of changing a child’s name is relatively straightforward – you just need to ensure that all relevant parties consent to the change. If there is any doubt that you will get the consent of all parties, the safest way of gaining consent is to apply to a Court for an order.

Further information and useful documents

We provide a template document that allows you to change your name without involving any third party solicitors or companies.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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