Any adult can apply to their district court for a name change, for themselves and for their minor children, at any time so long as they have resided in Minnesota for longer than 180 days. This is covered under Minnesota Statute Section 259. In addition, and as part of a dissolution of marriage proceeding, either spouse may request a change of his or her own name. The advantage to this latter method is that the name change does not require an additional filing fee. The disadvantage is that name changes pursuant to dissolutions are not extended to the minor children, and under 259.10, no minor child’s name may be changed without both parents having notice of the pending of the application for change of name.
The court shall grant a request unless it finds that there is an intent to defraud or mislead, unless the name change is subject to section 259.13 (if someone has been convicted of certain criminal offenses), in which case the requirements of that section apply. The court shall notify the parties that use of a different surname after dissolution or legal separation without complying with section 259.13, if applicable, is a gross misdemeanor.
I have seen many nuances to name changes in my years in Anoka County. A few folks have opted to remove their last name completely and a few men have demanded that their soon-to-be ex-wife ‘give him his name back’. The Court will grant permission for any reasonable name change, but in the latter case, I always let them know that under the divorce statute, the ‘requesting party’ can only have his or her own name changed. I have also had cases where a spouse has been undergoing gender reassignation and has changed his first name from a masculine name to a feminine name. Years ago, a (soon to be retired and since-deceased) Anoka County Judge refused to grant permission for the man to do so, necessitating a second trip to Family Court and a different Judge.
Again, there is no statutory authority for a Court to change a child’s name (first or last) pursuant to any kind of action except an outright application for name change under Minnesota Statutes Section 259.10. This issue comes up on paternity or custody and parenting time cases; a district court cannot change the name of a child under this file number. The parties can agree to do this under Minnesota Statutes section 259, so long as they both agree, or one of the parties can attempt to change a child’s name over the other parent’s objection. In this case, the Court will make findings about whether the change of the child’s name is in his or her best interest. I have had these cases decided both ways; it depends on the Judge, the age of the child, the involvement of both parents, and individual family situations. I was saddened by a divorced mother who changed the name of her eight year old son to her last name because his father was not part of his life. Her reasoning was so that the child felt more a part of her family. She married again a year later and took her new husband’s last name. Is it a surprise that mother and now-adult son are now estranged?