Posted on 04/12/2013 at 02:03 PM by Mary Zambreno
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 courts decision to change the name of 14-month-old Alexander GoudreauGoudreau being the mothers surnameto also include the surname of the childs 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 childs best interest, the court also rejected the custodial mothers argument that the best interest of the child standard reflects a sexist societal tradition of giving a child its fathers 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 Alexanders name to include the non-custodial biological fathers 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 childs name under § 598.41. If an initial determination of the childs 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 childs 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 childs 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 Lemieuxs 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 Alexanders name to include the fathers surname.