In IRMO Piegari, 2016 IL App (2d) 160594, while the parties were involved in a divorce, Wife filed a motion to change the last name of the three very young children from her husband’s (Piegari) to a hyphenated name with her maiden name (Crider). She argued to the Court that the last name, “Piegari-Crider”, would “avoid future confusion when she enrolls the children in school and extra-curricular activities. In addition, Wife noted that hyphenating the children’s surnames would “allow the children to appreciate and enjoy their cultural heritage,” since “Piegari’ is Italian and ‘Crider’ is Scot-Irish.” And, she continued, since “the children are still young”—currently they are ages four, two, and two (the latter two are twins)—changing their surnames would “not cause them any confusion” and would “not affect their involvement in school and the community.”

Husband argued to the Court that it was not in the children’s best interests to hyphenate their surnames. He also told the Court that Wife had already gone ahead and changed their surnames on various documents.

The trial court held a hearing on Wife’s petition. The court noted that it was required to consider, for each child, “all relevant factors,” including: (1) the parents’ wishes; (2) the child’s wishes; (3) the child’s “interaction and interrelationship” with his or her family; and (4) “the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community.” The court further noted that the burden of proof in such cases is a high one, as the statute clearly states that a name-change order “shall be entered as to a minor only if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the change is necessary to serve the best interest of the child.” The Court considered that, because a change in the name of a child is a serious matter with far-reaching effects, the law permits such a change only in compelling circumstances. Despite this high burden, however, Wife presented no evidence to the court. Wife only told the Court again that she had a strong desire to have the children’s surnames changed.

The trial court denied Wife’s name-change petition.  The Appellate Court noted that “the consistent use of a single name is important to the child’s emotional development”. Wife added in the Appellate Court that hyphenating the children’s surnames would be “less disruptive” than placing her maiden surname first, as she could have requested. But, the Court said that it was irrelevant that the Wife could have done that. The fact is that she did not argue that in the trial court. The Appellate Court stated that the question is whether Wife presented clear and convincing evidence that the name change she did request was necessary to serve the best interest of each child. And, since Wife presented no evidence to the trial court on that point, the Appellate Court’s job was that much easier. The Trial Court’s decision was affirmed as correct.

The Appellate Court took note Wife mixed parenting time with parental decision-making responsibilities when Wife states that she, as the parent “who exercises approximately 80% of the parenting time with the children, is the parent who will be responsible to enroll the children in curricular and extra-curricular activities.” The Court rejected that assertion outright.  In line with the parties’ parenting agreement, although Wife was allocated the majority of the parenting time, both Husband and Wife shared equal responsibility for significant decision making on the children’s behalf.  That includes the children’s enrollment in school as well as their participation in extracurricular activities. Wife’s blatant attempt to transform her greater share of parenting time into a position of power concerning the children’s surnames, and without any acknowledgement or appreciation of Alexander’s equal share of decision-making responsibility, misrepresents the parties’ parenting agreement, misapplies the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, and is not well taken. We emphasize that whether it is Wife, Husband, or the two of them who ultimately enrolls the children in school or in a given activity has no bearing on each parent’s equal right to make significant decisions concerning the children.

Whew! I wouldn’t want anyone to think it was easy to change a child’s last name, after reading a case with facts like these. If you do want to change a child’s name, be sure you have good, solid reasons as to why it is in the child’s best interest to do so. That does not include that it is in your best interest alone.

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