Earlier this year, Elon Musk’s 18-year-old daughter petitioned a California court to recognize her gender as female, to issue a new birth certificate, and to change her name to eliminate any connection with her father. Her petition further stated that she was requesting the name change due to “the fact that I no longer live with or wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form,” as well as her gender identity.
According to several news and media outlets, the Court granted the petition, citing the lack of any objections thereto. The Court ordered a new birth certificate to be issued recognizing the daughter’s gender as female and her new name.
If this matter had been brought in Massachusetts, the process would largely mirror that in California. For an adult to legally change their name in Massachusetts – except when the change is due to marriage or divorce – the adult must petition the Court and explain why they are seeking the name change. The petition form does not provide any guidance as to the specifics or nature of that explanation, and the relevant statute requires the Court to grant such a petition unless the requested name change is inconsistent with public interests. In short, the need for an adult to rid their father from their life may be reason enough in Massachusetts.
The process to legally change a minor child’s last name in Massachusetts, however, is more rigorous, as the petitioner must demonstrate to the Court that the name change is in the child’s best interests. When making that determination, the Court considers a variety of factors, including the effect of the name change on the child’s relationship with each parent and other siblings, the age of the child, the length of time the child has used a given name, and the challenges or embarrassment the child may experience from using their current or proposed last name. Notably, the Court may not favor one parent’s interest in having the child bear their last name over the other parent’s interest in the same. The focus must be on what is in the child’s best interests, not on the parents’ preferences.
For more information about Fitch Law Partners LLP’s family law practice, please visit our website: www.fitchlp.com