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Child custody: What's in a name?

It's an old question, but in one form or another, it's a question that expectant parents ask every day: what's in a name? Most parents take the naming of their child very seriously, and sometimes disputes arise over what a minor child's name should be after the parents divorce or separate.

In New Jersey, the custodial parent usually gets legal preference if the naming of a minor child is disputed. For example, maybe a custodial mother doesn't want her child to have the abusive father's last name anymore. These are issues that can come up in child custody disputes.

But exactly how far does a court's authority go in terms of the naming of a child? New Jersey has shown legal precedent for giving parents wide discretion in choosing their child's name, even if that name is extremely offensive to the vast majority of people. (It is also possible for a child to later legally change his or her name.)

A recent case in another state again brings up the question of a parent's right to choose a child's name. In Tennessee, a judge actually renamed a child who was initially called Messiah. The judge changed the baby boy's name to Martin, claiming that the name Messiah would rub Christians the wrong way. It remains to be seen, however, if that odd judicial maneuver will eventually be overturned.

Of course, naming a child is only one aspect of raising a child. When parents decide to end their marriage or domestic partnership, many issues related to child custody come up, and parents often don't agree on how their child should be raised. Still, it is important for parents to always keep in mind that what is most important in these cases is to protect the child's best interest.

It is also important to be aware of your parental rights if a dispute over child custody arises.

Source: New Hampshire Magazine, "Legal Questions About Names for Children," Jeff Woodburn, Oct. 16, 2013

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