Supreme Court: Child's name may be changed to reflect parentage
CONCORD - A judge has the discretion to order an unmarried couple to change their child's name to reflect both parents' last names, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a case out of Berlin.
The court said both mother and father cared, loved and were committed to their child and, accordingly, the trial court had an objective basis to sustain its conclusion that the now-3-year-old boy's full name should include both parents' surnames.
The mother, Veronica Goudreau, appealed the order out of the 1st Circuit Court - Berlin Family Division, which approved Marital Master Ann Barber's recommendation that the child's name be changed.
According to the court decision, Goudreau and Andrew Lemieux had a romantic relationship in high school. When she became pregnant, the couple broke up because, Goudreau said, Lemieux reacted negatively to the pregnancy, told her she was crazy for wanting to keep the child, preferred she give the child up for adoption, and did not provide her with emotional or financial support.
Lemieux was 15 years old at the time but, once his son was born, his parents. Maurice and Gisele Lemieux, filed a parenting petition with the court.
Lemieux, they said, had been adjusting emotionally to the reality of being a father at the age of 15 and was prepared, through their assistance, to accept responsibility and parent his child.
The court granted their petition and a parenting schedule was worked out. They returned to court, however, alleging the mother limited Lemieux's parenting time with his son, named Alexander Bailey Goudreau, to one hour a week. A temporary parenting plan was issued giving the mother primary residential responsiblity for Alexander, creating a regular weekly schedule for him to see his son and ordered the parents to share responsibility for making major decisions about Alexander.
When Alexander was about 14 months old, Maurice and Gisele Lemieux filed a petition requesting Alexander's name be changed to Alexander Bailey Lemieux. Goudreau objected saying she deserved just as much as Lemieux to have her son have her surname. Lemieux testifed he was conflicted about becoming a father but was now "very satisfied with the road (he) chose, really getting to know (his) son."
The judge ordered the name change and declined to fault a 15-year-old boy for his reluctance to immediately accept responsibility for his son.
The decision was based on the best interests of the child who had two parents who both cared for him and loved him. "Andrew Lemieux's commitment to Alexander should be demonstrated in Alexander's name, as should Veronica Groudreau's," the court wrote.
The mother appealed, arguing the best interest standard applied by the trial court is vague, undefined, arbitrary and naked; that the standard "usually reflects the custom of giving a child its father's surname, and therefore reflects sexist social conventions."
The Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Robert Lynn, said the court did not "accept mother's negative characterization of the best interest standard. The standard's elasticity is a virtue, not a sign of arbitrariness."
The court also rejected the mother's contention that the best interest standard reflects sexist social conventions, as well as her request that the state follow New Jersey's statute which decided the name chosen by the custodial parent is in the child's best interest.
Such a presumption, the Supreme Court noted, could result in bias in favor of maternal surnames since the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 82.2 percent of custodial parents are mothers.