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The legislative policy is to give a child the surname of the mother unless a change would promote the child’s interests.

Tennessee child name change case summary.

Michael Ashley Lockhart v. Casey Dawn Higgins

The child in this Warren County, Tennessee, case was born to unwed parents in 2018, and the father filed a petition to establish paternity about two weeks later.  The petition included a request to change the child’s surname to his.

The parents were able to resolve most issues, but were unable to agree as to the name, and a hearing was held in 2020 before Judge Larry B. Stanley, who ordered the child’s name changed to a hyphenated version of the two surnames.  The mother then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The appeals court noted that the standard of review requires the lower court to specifically identify facts upon which it based its ruling, and that it had failed to do so.  Normally, there is a presumption of correctness of the lower court’s findings, and the appellate court can use those facts to apply the correct legal standard.  But in a case such as this where there were no fact findings, that was impossible.  However, remanding the case for fact findings wouldn’t be appropriate, and the appeals court decided to proceed by conducting a de novo review of the record to determine the facts.

The court started by pointing out that the legislative policy is to give a child the surname of the mother unless a change would promote the child’s interests.   The burden of proof is on the party seeking the change.

In this case, the father had presented no evidence showing that a change of name would benefit the child.  The only evidence was the father’s statement that he wanted to coach the child in various sports someday.  The appeals court held that such a general statement of opinion or belief was insufficient.

The court also pointed to evidence that the father had been convicted of some crimes after the child’s birth.  Since one relevant factor is the degree of community respect for the name, the court held that this factor weighed against the change.

Given these facts, the Court of Appeals determined that the father had failed to meet his burden of proof.  For this reason, it reversed the trial court’s ruling.

The opinion of the Court of Appeals was authored by Judge Andy D. Bennett, and Judges D. Michael Swiney and W. Neal McBrayer joined.

No.M2020-01370-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 9,  2021).

See original opinion for exact language.  Legal citations omitted.

To learn more, see Child Custody Laws in Tennessee.

See also Tennessee Parenting Plans and Child Support Worksheets: Building a Constructive Future for Your Family featuring examples of parenting plans and child support worksheets from real cases available on Amazon.com.

The post Unwed Father Fails to Provide Evidence of Name Change Benefits Child first appeared on Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC.