What's in a name? Both parents' love, says NH court
CONCORD - A judge has the discretion to order an unmarried couple to change their child's name to reflect both parents' last names, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a case out of Berlin.
The court said both mother and father - in high school at the time of conception - cared, loved and were committed to their child and, accordingly, the trial court had an objective basis for 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 had 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 relationship in high school. When she became pregnant, the couple broke up. Goudreau said Lemieux told her she was crazy for wanting to keep the child, preferred she give up the child for adoption and did not provide emotional or financial support.
Lemieux was 15 at the time. Once his son was born, his own 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 and was prepared, with their assistance, to accept responsibility and parent his child.
The court granted their petition; a parenting schedule was worked out. They returned to court, however, alleging Goudreau limited Lemieux's parenting time with his son, then named Alexander Bailey Goudreau, to one hour a week. A temporary parenting plan was issued, creating a regular weekly schedule for Lemieux to see his son and ordering 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 testified he was conflicted at first 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 be changed to Alexander Goudreau Lemieux.
"Andrew Lemieux's commitment to Alexander should be demonstrated in Alexander's name, as should Veronica Goudreau's," the court wrote.
Goudreau appealed, arguing the "best interest" standard applied by the trial court is vague, undefined and arbitrary and 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 the 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.