Case Law on Name Change in Maryland

Categories :: Family Law > Name Change

"Case law" is the collected decisions made by the courts. Judges interpret the law (the statutes noted above). In practical terms, this means that judges decide exactly how the law might apply in certain situations.

Case law may apply to your situation. The more your situation is like the situation faced by the people involved in the case, the more you can rely on the judge’s decision to guide you in your own situation.

Right to take back your previous (prenuptial) name

  • Stuart v. Board of Supervisors of Elections, 266 Md. 440, 295 A.2d 223 (1972). Mrs. Stuart was married, but wanted to retain her original or birth name.  The trial court stated that when a woman is married, common law states that a woman shall take her husband’s last name.  The Court of Appeals overruled the trial court and said that a woman may keep her birth name after marriage.
  • Klein v. Klein, 36 Md. App. 177, 373 A.2d 86 (1977). Mr. Klein filed for divorce and Mrs. Klein responded to the divorce decree and asked the court to restore her pre-marriage name.  The court would not restore her name.  The Special Court of Appeals reversed the previous court's decision and allowed Mrs. Klein to return to her pre-marriage name.

Right to take a name by “usage” and not file with the court

  • Stuart v. Board of Supervisors of Elections, 266 Md. 440, 295 A.2d 223 (1972). In this case, the court allowed a woman to keep her birth name after marriage. The court ruled, "a person, in absence of statute, may adopt any name, as long as he does so consistently and non-fraudulently." 
  • Torbit v. State, 102 Md. App. 530, 650 A.2d 311 (1994). A prisoner wanted to change his name because of his religious beliefs.  The Court of Appeals stated that a person may change their name for any legal reason.  The court also stated that name change laws are not the only ways to change your name.

You must publish the name change even if the name change is for child by parent

  • Hardy v. Hardy, 269 Md. 412, 306 A.2d 244 (1973). A mother sought a name change for her child because the father was not an active parent in the child’s life.  The mother did not want to publish the name change as required.  The court ruled that the mother must follow the procedure and publish the name change.

Process for changing your name after adoption by foster parents

  • In re Adoption/Guardianship No. 3155, 103 Md. App. 300, 653 A.2d 521 (1995). In this case, a child in foster care had his own attorney. The foster parents wanted to change the child's last name to the same name as the foster parents. The child's attorney raised a question. The court ruled that a separate petition for change of name needed to be filed.

When parents do not agree on changing a child’s name

  • West v. Wright, 263 Md. 297, 283 A.2d 401(1971).  In this case, the stepfather wanted to change the last name of his stepsons.  The natural father wanted the children to retain his last name. The best interest of the sons was considered in deciding whether to change the son’s last name. In this case, the court held that the children should keep their natural father's last name. This is the Maryland case that most court look at when deciding about the best interest of the child in a name change case.
  • Lassiter-Geers v. Reichenback, 303 Md. 88, 492 A.2d 303 (1985). A child was born after the two parents decided that they no longer wanted to be married to each other.  The parents never discussed the child’s last name. The mother gave the child the mother’s maiden name.  The father wanted the child to have his last name.  Parents have the right to jointly to adopt any last name for their child.  However, when parents disagree, the court will look at the best interest of the child.
  • Lawrence v. Lawrence, 74 Md.App. 472, 538 A.2d 779 (1988). The mother wanted to change the name of her children because she kept custody of them after the divorce.  The father wanted the children to keep his last name. The court stated that, in this situation, the court will look at what is in the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child is decided by a list of factors. These factors include the length of time the name of the child is used, strength of the parent’s relationship with the child, the need of the child to identify with a family unit, or any additional factors the court states are important to look at to determine the best interest of the child.  In this case, the court decided the child should keep the father's last name.
  • Schroeder v. Broadfoot, 142 Md. App. 569, 790 A. 2d 733 (2002).Two people in a very rocky relationship had a child outside of marriage.  Trial court held it was in the best interest of the child to have the father’s last name because the father did not abandon the child.  The Court of Appeals stated that the trial court did not rule correctly because the fact that the father did not abandon the child was the only factor used to determine the best interest of the child. A court should look at many factors to decide the best interest of the child.
  • Dorsey v. Tarpley, 381 Md. 109, 847 A. 2d 445 (2004).  In this case, a child was born outside of marriage and the father wanted to change his child's name to his last name. The trial court allowed the father to move to change the child's name.  The Court of Appeals stated that neither parent has absolute right to determine the child’s initial last name. The court will look at the best interest of the child to determine which name is best for the child. The Court of Appeals sent the case back to the first judge to resolve some of the facts of the case.

Parental Right to Change Child's Birth Certificate

  • In re Roberto D. B., 399 Md. 267, 287 (Md. 2007). A father who contracted with a woman to be a gestational carrier for his twins wanted to remove the gestational carrier's name from the twins' birth certificate. The woman did not object to her name being erased from the 'mother' line on the birth certificate. As a gestational carrier, the woman merely carried the babies to term and did not have a genetic relationship with the children. Trial court held that, applying the best interest of the child standard, it would be in the best interest of the child to keep the woman's name on the certificate, citing potential health and other benefits for the children in knowing the name of the woman. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that without any asertion that the father was an unfit parent, the trial court erred in applying the best interest of the child standard. When measuring the rights of a parent versus those of a third party, the desires of the parent have more weight than those of the third party. Furthermore, in this case the third party agreed with the parent.

Transgender Persons

  • In re Heilig, 372 Md. 692 (Md. 2003). Trial court granted a male to female transsexual's petition for name change, but claimed it lacked jurisdiction to change legal sex status. The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court did have jurisdiction and remanded for determination based upon whether person had effected 'a permanent and irreversible change in gender that warranted recognition.'
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