Parental responsibility issues when changing a child's name in England and Wales

In order to change the name of a child less than 16 years of age consent must be given by all those with parental responsibility.  Only somebody who has parental responsibility for a child can change their name by Deed Poll.

If the child is over 16 years of age they must apply for their own Deed Poll for which parental consent is not required.

What is parental responsibility?    

The legal definition of Parental Responsibility (PR) is ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that go with being a parent'.  This means that those with parental responsibility have a duty to care for and protect the child and that they have a right to make decisions regarding that child's future.

To change a child's name, all those with parental responsibility must consent to the name change. In most situations parental responsibilities may be exercised until a young person reaches 18 years of age. However, as regards name change, once a child reaches 16 years of age they have the right to change their name without having to gain consent from those with parental responsibility.

Who has parental responsibility?

In any part of the United Kingdom, a mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child. However, whether or not the father has parental responsibility is a more complex matter, which differs from place to place. Since all those holding parental responsibility must agree to a change of name for a child, it is essential to know exactly who does, and who does not hold parental responsibility.

To determine who holds parental responsibility in England and Wales view our flowchart.

When a child is born, their mother automatically holds parental responsibility. If the child's father is married to the mother, he too has parental responsibility.  For births registered after 1st December 2003, if the father's details were entered onto the child's birth certificate, he will have parental responsibility.  However, for births registered before this date, this law does not apply.

If the parents have not been married, the mother can change the child's name without the father's consent provided he has not obtained parental responsibility in one of the following ways: 

A step-parent or civil partner can obtain parental responsibility in the following ways:

Adoptive parents gain parental responsibility for their child upon adoption.

If a father holding parental responsibility refuses to give his consent to change his child's name, the only thing a mother can do is to apply to the courts for leave (permission) to change the child's name. The courts will then decide if it is in the best interests of the child for his/her name to be changed. With older children their feelings can be an important influence on the courts decision as to whether or not to grant permission for a change of name.

Loss of Parental Responsibility

At the following times, parental responsibility is lost:

Please note that parental responsibility can also be limited by Care Orders, Contact Orders or Prohibited Steps Orders.

Fathers without parental responsibility   

If the child's father doesn't have parental responsibility, it is still a good idea for a mother to try to gain his consent before changing the child's surname.

This is especially important if the mother plans to change the child's surname from that of the father, to her own. There have been cases in which a father who maintains a close contact with his child is unhappy with the name change and is able to have it reversed.

In such situations, in which a father is attempting to reverse a name change, the courts will consider whether it is in the child's interests to 'disassociate' (separate) them from their birth name. If the courts agree that it is damaging to the child to no longer share a surname with his/her father, they will issue a court order, allowing the father to change the child's name back.

This is only likely to occur if a mother is changing her child's surname from that of the father to something else.

Absent fathers holding parental responsibility  

In order to change the name of a child with official record holders such as the Identity and Passport Office all holders of parental responsibility must agree to the name change. If a mother wishes to change her child's name but cannot gain the consent of their father who holds parental responsibility because his whereabouts is unknown she must obtain a court order.

This involves submitting an application to the courts who will then decide if it is in the best interests of the child to undergo a change of name. A change of forename is usually a fairly straightforward process but if a mother is attempting to change her child's surname from that of the father to something else, it may be more difficult. The courts will have to agree that disassociating from their birth name will not be damaging to the child.

When do carers have parental responsibility?

Depending on the circumstances, friends or family members appointed as foster carers will sometimes hold partial parental responsibility for the child.

The same consent requirements apply for carers holding parental responsibility as normal. In order for a carer to change a child's name they must obtain the consent of all those holding parental responsibility for the child (in most cases the child's biological parents).

If the parents disagree to the name change only the courts can decide whether the child's name can be changed.  In these situations the children's feelings towards the name change are an important factor for the courts in deciding whether to grant permission for a change of name.

Detailed below are some of the common arrangements in place with carers along with who would hold parental responsibility in each case.

  1. Under a care order, the child is looked after by the Local Authority and has been placed with a friend or family member who has been approved as a foster carer.
    • The child's parents and the Local Authority share parental responsibility for the child who may only be removed from the carer through the local authority.
    • In this case the foster parents will not have parental responsibility and therefore can not change the child's name.
  2. Under a voluntary agreement with the child's parents, the child is looked after by the Local Authority and placed with a friend or family member who has been approved as a foster carer.
    • The parents have parental responsibility for the child who may only be removed from the carer either by the parents or through the local authority.
    • In this case the foster carers will not have parental responsibility and therefore can not arrange a name change for the child.
  3. With a residence order, the child is cared for by a friend or family member.
    • Here, parental responsibility is shared between the parents of the child, and the person in whose favour the residence order was made.
    • In this situation both the carer and parents would have to consent to change the child's name.
    • If both parties do not consent to the change of name only the courts can decide whether to grant a change of name.
    • Without a court order, the child cannot be removed from the carer by the parents.
  4. With a special guardianship order, the child is cared for by a friend or family member.
    • Parental responsibility is shared between the parents of the child, and the person in whose favour the special guardianship order was made.
    • The special guardian may exercise day to day parental responsibility rights to the exclusion of all others holding parental responsibility (except for any other special guardian).
    • The special guardian can apply to the courts to grant a change of name for the child if the parents do not consent.
  5. Under a Deed of Appointment, the child is cared for by a friend or family member who is appointed as a guardian, upon the death of a parent as a part of the parent's will.
    • If the carer has been appointed by a parent who has sole parental responsibility, the carer will have full parental responsibility on the death of the parent (or otherwise upon the death of everyone with parental responsibility).
    • In this situation the carer can change the child's name.
  6. The child is cared for by a carer who has no legal order, and has not been appointed as a guardian.
    • If this sort of private agreement has been made, parental responsibility remains with the child's parents and not the carer.
    • The child's parents may remove the child as and when they wish.
    • The carer may not change the child's name

It is important to note that when parental responsibility is shared and not everyone with responsibility consents to the child's name change only a court can decide whether to grant a change of name.

Changing a child's name by Deed Poll


To change your name...

  1. Fill in our online application form
  2. Receive your Deed Poll in the post
  3. Sign and date your Deed Poll
  4. Update records into your new name

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