Changing Child's Name & Adoption Rights with Sole Legal Custody?

Updated on June 27, 2012
J.H. asks from San Jose, CA
9 answers

Hi Mamas,

I'm thinking of changing my daughter's name (along with mine) after I get married. For background, he is a wonderful (step-)father and bio dad is out of the country and will not be returning for at least 10 years (if ever). I have sole legal custody. Does that mean I am the only "legal parent" and can change her name without issue?

I thought I'd throw this question out there before I start researching the topic. Has anyone had experience with this?

Also, my SO would like to adopt her. I don't know if bio dad will sign off on that or not - it is hard to get in touch with him. If he doesn't, is there anyway the adoption can go through without a response from him?

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So What Happened?

Thanks for everyone who has responded so far. To be clear, I have done everything in my power to keep bio dad in my daughter's life - even helping him legally with his deportation hearing (he was removed because of violent offenses). I can not make him be involved in her life. I can only clear out all the obstacles. I have his mother's P.O. box and a facebook account that he barely uses both of which I would happily give to the court. He has chosen to abandon her. To his credit, he would consider doing what is best for her in relinquishing his parental rights. There is practical reason for adoption, such as medical insurance, otherwise I would not bother with that right now. My primary question is regarding the name change because I will not change mine without changing hers too.

There is no question in my mind that the adoption will go through. It is just a matter of course. I briefly looked at CA laws and we are certainly eligible for "abandonment" procedures and, in a matter of time, can also use "willful failure" procedures.

Dereliction of parental responsibilities is a good reason to lose them. DD has one "Dad" and it is my SO who has been raising her for years and will continue to raise her into adulthood, God willing. It would be completely UNjust for her to be denied a second legal parent based soley on blood kinship.

Thanks Thea! Wish I could send you a flower twice :)

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answers from Las Vegas on

I would do some research. My bff was adopted by her step dad in NV and her bio father was in GA. I think she had to run an add in the paper and since he didn't respond the adoption was granted.


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answers from Los Angeles on

no. you have to notify him. Full custody does not mean he gave up his parental rights to her. It just means you have full custody and can make all decisions. You have to petition the court for adoption and offer a waiver if the birth parent cannot be reached.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dover on

Sole legal custody mean you get to handle all the legal decisions (education, religion, medical treatment, etc). But unless her biological father has had his parental rights taken away, she very much still has paternal rights. To change her name or have step-father adopt her, you need to have him sign off.

Just read your SWH...once married, your husband would be able to cover your daugther as a dependant without adopting her.

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answers from Philadelphia on

If her bio dad is on her birth certificate you cannot do a thing without his permission. You'll need to go to court to see what you have to do to change things. If he's not on the birth certificate you'll have to prove he is out of the picture but each state is different. The judge may have you send him a paper to sign his rights over to you and/or permission for adoption. Call a lawyer and see what the laws are in your state.

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets

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answers from Washington DC on

Nope, sorry. You'll have to get his permission.

I also have sole legal custody of my son (from California actually), which is does NOT mean the bio-dad's rights are terminated. It just means that you can do things like register for school, apply for a passport, consent to surgery, etc. on your own.

Specific to the name change... I wanted to change DS's last name just to include my maiden name when we divorced (change from just dad's name to hyphenated mom's-dad's). His dad wouldn't agree, so I couldn't change it, even though he would have still HAD his dad's last name.

As for the adoption... if your SO adopts her her bio father is no longer her parent. He will either have to relinquish parental rights (like actually give her up for adoption) of have his rights terminated by family court (unlikely). If bio-dad won't sign off, it's a closed issue... the court won't MAKE him give his child up for adoption.

If you can't get in touch with him (for either issue), you'll have to provide evidence of the steps you took to try and reach him (usually it's certified mail to his last known address, and running adds in local papers in his last known city for a couple of months asking him to respond etc... not just trying to call and him not answering).

That being said, you can CALL your child whatever you want. As a teacher I've had many students who USE their step-dad's last name even though that's not what's on their record. It's not as big a deal as you'd think.

ETA: For insurance issues etc... step-parent adoption can't usually happen UNTIL you're married, and at that point she'd be fully entitled to be covered by his benefits as a "step child." So don't stress too much about it as the adoption may take quite a bit of time (since abandonment can be a pain to prove).

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

The bio dad would have to sign off if he's reachable. Otherwise I think they put in a public notice in the paper. My dad adopted me and my bio dad was completely out of the picture - but that was over 40 years ago. Good-luck.

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answers from Dallas on

Depends on your states laws. When my husband adopted my oldest they appointed an adlida attorney for my son and one for his father. The one for his father had to try to contact him. Since they were not able to find him or he didn't respond they considered it abandonment and since my son's attorney said that he felt this was in my son's best interest they devolved his rights and granted the adoption. CA may be different. I don't know about being able to change her name without the adoption. I would do it all at once if he's planning to adopt her. Cause it's money going out once or twice.

Good luck and God Bless!

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answers from Lansing on

I did the same thing with my daughter. I had sole legal guardianship of her, but then again her bio dad gladly signed off on her. There is always abandonment. I think here in Michigan if a parent has nothing to do with the child for over a year, then you get full rights and can do what you want. Call up your local Friend of the Court about that and your probate court handles the name change stuff. It's easy. I filled out a form, took it in and paid the fee. In a couple weeks I got my daughter ammended Birth certificate in the mail. Good Luck!

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answers from San Antonio on

Most states allow for a child to be adopted if the other bio-parent has been out of the picture for a period of time. In Texas, if the other parent is out of the picture for 6 months, with no contact or monetary support then the courts can terminate their parental rights allowing someone else to adopt the child.

I don't see why your fiance couldn't adopt her. Get a lawyer though to make sure that there is no way the ex can come back and claim parental rights.

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