Iowa Family Law Blog

What’s in a name?
Apr. 12, 2013Mary A. Zambreno, Iowa Family Law Blog
What's in a name?

Co-authored with Patrick Shanahan

In In re Name Change of Alexander Goudreau, 55 A.3d 1008 (N.H. 2012), the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a family court’s decision to change the name of 14-month-old Alexander Goudreau—Goudreau being the mother’s surname—to also include the surname of the child’s biological father, Lemieux. The court applied a deferential standard of review and declined to enumerate specific factors a lower court must consider in child-naming disputes brought under the applicable New Hampshire statute. Refusing to adopt a presumption that the name chosen by the custodial parent is in a child’s best interest, the court also rejected the custodial mother’s argument that the “best interest of the child” standard reflects a sexist societal tradition of giving a child its father’s surname. Because the record reflected that both teenage parents loved and were committed to the child, the family court was within its discretion to alter Alexander’s name to include the non-custodial biological father’s surname.

Would the result be the same if Goudreau and Lemieux lived in Iowa? Under Iowa law, the threshold inquiry would be whether Lemieux was seeking a name change under Iowa Code § 674.6 or an initial determination of the child’s name under § 598.41.

If an initial determination of the child’s name is sought, the court applies the best interest of the child standard utilizing the factors outlined in § 598.41(3). In contrast, a name change petition for a child under the age of 14 pursuant to § 674.6 requires the consent of both parents listed on the child’s birth certificate. The consent requirement will be waived if the court finds that: (i) the nonconsenting parent abandoned the child; (ii) the nonconsenting parent violated a support order; or (iii) the nonconsenting parent no longer objects to the name change.

In Braunschweig v. Fahrenkrog, 773 N.W.2d 888, 894 (Iowa 2009), the Iowa Supreme Court emphasized that an initial determination challenge occurs if a child’s surname is disputed when a father brings an action to establish paternity and adjudicate his parental rights. However, any challenge occurring after that time is a petition for a name change governed by § 674.6. Thus, in the New Hampshire case, because the father previously filed a petition seeking recognition of his right to regular contact with Alexander but failed to raise the surname issue at that time, Iowa courts would have treated Lemieux’s subsequent challenge as a § 674.6 name change petition. The result for the parties would likely have been different under Iowa law. Because none of the waiver requirements in the statute would be satisfied, the mother likely would have been successful in preventing the alteration of Alexander’s name to include the father’s surname.

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Practice Area Categories: Family Law

Mary A. Zambreno




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