Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

back
Topic /161
Neal v. Neal

Citation. Neal v. Neal, 941 S.W.2d 501, 1997 Mo. LEXIS 33 (Mo. Mar. 25, 1997)

Brief Fact Summary. Wife and Husband separated while Wife was pregnant. Wife petitioned to have her surname changed back to her maiden name, and placed her maiden name as surname for her son upon his birth. The trial court refused to grant Wife’s requested name change, and changed the child’s name to Husband’s surname.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Due to clear legislative intent, a general concern of potential detriment is insufficient to prevent an individual’s name change. However, proper notice is required for a child’s name change.

Facts. Melissa Neal and Bruce Neal separated in 1995 while she was pregnant. Wife petitioned for dissolution of marriage and requested orders relative to the minor child and restoration of her maiden name. Husband denied that the marriage was irretrievably broken and requested dismissal of Wife’s petition. Upon birth of the parties’ son Wife denominated her surname, Gintz, as the child’s surname on his birth certificate. During a decree of dissolution the court ordered the surname of the minor child changed to Neal. Wife appealed.

Issue.
Did the trial court err in refusing to restore her maiden name, Gintz?

Did the trial court err by granting Husband’s request to change the child’s surname to Neal?

Held. The trial court erred both in its denial of the petition for Wife to change her name and its granting of Husband’s request to change the child’s surname.
The trial court denied the petition to change Wife’s name because the parties were still lawfully married therefore the granting of the petition could be detrimental to others in the future. The appellate court reversed based on a common law right to change of name regardless of marital status. A general concern of possible detriment is insufficient to deny such a petition.

Although Wife challenges the trial court’s decision regarding the child’s name on abuse of discretion grounds, the threshold issue is that proper procedure requires notice be given by the party seeking to have the child’s name changed. This is because the trial courts discretion in changing a child’s name is determined by the best interests of the child. In the present case there was no notice to Wife of Husband’s intent to change the name of the child.

Discussion. Although a court has discretion to not allow a person to change their name because it would be detrimental, the scope of the discretion is narrow. In order to change a child’s name, proper notice must be given to concerned parties.