Q: My two children live with my ex-wife. I work and live over two hundred miles away but am constantly in touch with the children via social media and telephone and I pay regular maintenance for them. In the school holidays I take time off and they come and stay with me.
My ex-wife is now going to marry again and insists it is in the children’s best interests for them to take her new married name so that they have the same name as their new step siblings and they can all ‘be a proper family’. I really have a problem with this because even though I am physically absent most of the time I am still their father and I am a good father. Can I insist they keep my name?
A: All mothers and most fathers have legal rights and responsibilities as a parent. This is known as ‘parental responsibility’. It applies whether or not a child lives with a parent or even has contact with them. The parent living with the child must keep the absent parent updated about the child’s well-being and progress. The absent parent is equally responsible for disciplining the child, choosing and providing their education, agreeing to their medical treatment, looking after the child’s property and naming the child and agreeing to any name change.
If you don’t agree with your children’s surname being changed your wife can apply to the Court so that a Judge can decide. If she changes it without your consent, you should apply to the Court to prevent it. The name change will rarely be granted and only if the Judge considers it is in the children’s best interests for that to happen. Before a decision is made the court will consider a number of factors as set out in the ‘Welfare checklist’. A family lawyer will be able to help you with the court application.