Hyphenating Children’s Names In Family Law

To hyphenate- or not to hyphenate

At first glance, the thought of commencing expensive legal proceedings over whether to hyphenate a child’s family name might make you hyperventilate, however, in a recent Full Court decision, Justices Ryan, Murphy and Aldridge were asked to do exactly that.

Of course, naming children is a serious topic, perhaps as serious as the question posed by Hamlet when considering his mortal coil. This is particularly so in the context of separated families, where children’s sense of identity and belonging is all the more complex.

It is understandable that separated parents want children to identify closely with both them and their extended families, and a shared name reminds us of our shared heritage- there’s a reason why it’s called a ‘family’ name. Shifting gender roles and a breakdown in traditional naming conventions also mean that there are simply a lot more options being considered for children’s last names, and where there’s options, there is dispute, and where there’s dispute, there is usually litigation.

This particular case concerned a three year old child whose parents had a very short relationship and never lived together. The mother appealed the decision of the trial Judge that the child should have a hyphenated surname, which included the names of both parents.

Pertinently, the Full Court commented that it is now “common for children to have a different surname from at least one of their parents, even in intact relationships” [73], and rejected the mother’s submission that it would be both embarrassing and confusing for the child to have to explain why he had a different surname to his mother, who was the parent that he lived with.

The Full Court disagreed, and held that it was in the child’s best interests to have a surname which “enhances his sense of identity with both… families” [92], and that the hyphenated surname achieved this.

Although every case turns on its own facts, this is an interesting consideration for separated parents of unborn or very young children, particularly where relationships between families are acrimonious.

The mother’s appeal was dismissed with costs.

Source:- Reynolds & Sherman [2016] FamCAFC 240 (29 November 2016)