UK Deed Poll Service
    Information and advice about changing your name by Deed Poll
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About Deed Polls
What is a Deed Poll?
Why is it called a Deed Poll?
What is the purpose of a Deed Poll?
Who can apply?

Can I change my children's names?
Are there any restrictions on names?
Is a Deed Poll registered anywhere?
Can a birth certificate be changed?
Why do people change their name?
Answers to other FAQs

Applying for a Deed Poll
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General name change information
Introduction
A woman's rights upon marriage
A man's rights upon marriage
A woman's rights upon divorce
A woman's rights upon being widowed
Your rights upon adoption
Who to advise after changing your name

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About Deed Polls
Can I change my children's names?

You can easily change your child's name by Deed Poll providing those with parental responsibility consent to the name change. If your child is 18 or over, they must execute their own Deed Poll.

Parental responsibility is a legal term and its definition and acquisition vary according to where in the UK your child resides. This article will enable you to understand the meaning of parental responsibility and determine who has parental responsibility for your child and thus who needs to consent to your child's name change.

Please read all of this page before completing the online application form. If you have sole parental responsibility and the father has regular contact with your child, please also read the section titled 'Important legal issues' towards the bottom of this page.

Consent requirement
After you have submitted an online application form, you must post to us an letter of consent (not by fax or e-mail), which confirms that those with parental responsibility have consented to your child's name change. A letter of consent is not just required by ourselves since no school, doctor or similar official record holder (such as the Passport Office) should allow a child to be known by a new name without satisfying themselves that everyone with parental responsibility has consented to the name change. Therefore, the letter of consent you send us will be returned to you with your child's Deed Poll so that it may be used, along with the Deed Poll, when applying to change the child's documents and records.

Please note, if your child is 16 or 17 years of age, the child must also consent in writing to their name being changed by Deed Poll. This is because at the age of 16 a person can decide for themselves what name they wish to be known by (although they cannot change their name by Deed Poll until they are 18).

Example letters of consent can be found on our Example letters of consent page.  There is a link to the letters on the online application form.

What is parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility is a legal term that means having all the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities for a child (a child is a person under the age of 18).

Having parental responsibility for a child means that you are responsible for, and have the right to be consulted about, the child's health, education and welfare. To change a child's name, those with parental responsibility must consent to the name change.

Who has parental responsibility?
This section will enable you to determine whether you have sole parental responsibility or joint parental responsibility. If you have sole parental responsibility, only you need to consent to your child's name change. If you have joint parental responsibility, you and the other person with parental responsibility (usually the father) need to consent to your child's name change.

Throughout the United Kingdom, a mother is automatically given parental responsibility. However, the acquisition of parental responsibility by fathers varies according to where the child resides:

  • Child residing in England or Wales
    If the father was married to the mother when their child was born, or marries the mother at any time subsequent to birth, the father has parental responsibility in addition to the mother. Therefore, the father's consent is also required to change the child's name.
  • Child residing in Scotland
    If the father was married to the mother when their child was conceived, or marries the mother at any time subsequent to conception, the father has parental responsibility in addition to the mother. Therefore, the father's consent is also required to change the child's name.
  • Child residing in Northern Ireland
    If the father was married to the mother when their child was born, the father also has parental responsibility. Therefore, the father's consent is also required to change the child's name. Please note, for births registered from 15 April 2002, an unmarried father automatically acquires parental responsibility if he is recorded as the child's father on the birth certificate.
  • Child residing outside the United Kingdom
    The laws of the UK country of birth apply.

If a father has parental responsibility, his consent is required to change his child's name. This is the case even if he and the mother have separated, divorced or remarried and if the father has no contact whatsoever with the child.

If a father, who has parental responsibility and who no longer lives with the mother and child, refuses to give his consent to change his child's name, the only course of action for the mother to apply to the courts for leave (permission) to change the child's name. A court will give permission if it believes it will be in the child's best interests to allow the name change. The court will take into account the degree of commitment of the father to the child and the quality of contact between the father and child to determine whether the link with the father (by shared surname) can be broken. An older child's views will also be important in deciding whether the name change should be allowed.

Acquisition of parental responsibility by unmarried fathers
Unmarried fathers can acquire parental responsibility by:

  • Subsequent marriage to the mother (England, Wales and Scotland only).
  • Being awarded parental responsibility by a court.
  • A formal documented agreement with the mother in the manner prescribed by law.
  • Being granted a Residence Order by a court.
  • Being appointed Guardian by a court.
  • Being registered as the child's father (only in Northern Ireland for births registered from 15 April 2002).

If an unmarried father acquires parental responsibility, his consent would be required, in addition to the mother's consent, to change their child's name.

Acquisition of parental responsibility by step-fathers
Step-fathers can acquire parental responsibility by:

  • Being granted a Residence Order by a court.
  • Being appointed Guardian by a court.
  • Adopting the child.

If a step-father acquires parental responsibility, his consent would be required, in addition to anyone else who has parental responsibility, to change the child's name e.g. the mother and maybe the natural father.

How parental responsibility is lost
Parental responsibility is only lost when:

  • The child reaches 18 years of age (16 in Scotland).
  • If it is brought to an end on application to a court by the person having it.
  • With the permission of the court on the application of the child.
  • If another person adopts the child.
  • If an order granting it is terminated by the court.
  • If a person with parental responsibility dies.

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

Important legal issues
If you have sole parental responsibility and the father has frequent contact with your child, there is legal precedence that you should be aware of before you apply to change your child's name.

There have been a few successful legal actions in England where an unmarried father without parental responsibility, has obtained a court order to have his child's change of surname reversed (but not any forename changes). In each case, the mother had changed her child's surname from the father's surname to her surname. The court ordered that the child's surname be changed back to the father's surname. The significant factor taken into account by the courts was that the courts recognised the importance of maintaining a link with the father. By sharing the same surname with the child, the father's biological link is recognised. The courts also took into account the degree of commitment of the father to the child and the quality of contact between the father and child. In these successful cases, there was frequent contact with the child by the father. This does mean, however, that if the father does not have frequent contact with his child, it is highly unlikely that he will be successful in obtaining an order to reverse a change of surname because there is no link to break.

You are therefore advised that if you change your child's surname and the father has frequent contact with your child, he may be able to have the change of name reversed (if he has the inclination, time and money to go through the court process). The only way to eliminate the risk of the change of surname being reversed is to apply to the courts for leave (permission) to change the child's name without the consent of the father.

If the father of your child has frequent contact an option to consider is to double barrel the surname with your surname i.e. add your surname to the child's surname. By doing this, it much more unlikely that the father will seek a court order to reverse the name change because his name has not been removed and thus the biological link to the father has not been broken.  Furthermore, if you do not link the two names with a hyphen, in common usage only the child's first name and last name will be used.  For example, if your child is known as Rebecca Louise Smith and you change the surname to Smith Jones (i.e. add your surname of Jones) then in common usage, the child will be called Rebecca Jones. However, if you hyphenate the surname, the child will always be called Rebecca Smith-Jones.

One further point to consider relates to the age of your child. If your child is into their adolescence (about 11 upwards) and the child wants the name change, the chance of the father being successful in obtaining a court order to reverse a surname change is significantly reduced. This is because a judge must act in the best interests of the child and if the child is able to demonstrate that they fully understand the significance of the name change and desire the name change then the judge will take the child's views into account. 

Changing a child's name without the consent of an absent father who has parental responsibility
It may be possible for a parent who has custody of a child to change the child's name by Deed Poll without the other parent's consent if the other parent's whereabouts is not known. Usually, this situation arises where a mother wishes to change the surname of her child because the child has the father's surname and the father is now absent through separation or divorce. The mother may have entered into a new relationship (and is using her new partner's surname) or has reverted to using her maiden name.

In this situation, the mother must write a letter of consent and include information about what reasonable measures she has taken to contact the absent father - for example, writing to the father's last known address and contacting relatives and friends of the father etc (see Letter 4 on the example letters of consent page). Although we will issue a Deed Poll upon receipt of a satisfactory letter of consent, there is a risk, that the father may in the future contest the change of name through the courts. However, a court will only reverse the change of name if it believes it is in the best interests of the child to do so. The court will take into account the degree of commitment of the father to the child and the quality of contact between the father and child. Therefore, if the father is voluntarily absent for a prolonged period of time (say for more than a year), the court is very unlikely to support a father's application to have a name change reversed. Furthermore, the father's chances are further reduced if the child also wishes to change their name, particularly an adolescent child who has an understanding of the significance of changing their name.

Please note that the issue of a Deed Poll by us - where one of the parents is absent and uncontactable - is no guarantee that all official record holders, e.g. school, doctor, passport office etc, will change your child's name records. This is because official holders of records should satisfy for themselves that all those with parental responsibility have consented to the child's name change. If the consent of an absent and uncontactable parent is not obtained, an official record holder can refuse to change a child's name records. Our experience is that this rarely happens. However, it is more likely that a child's name change will be refused if the letter of consent does not contain sufficient information to demonstrate that reasonable attempts have been made to contact the absent parent. It may be that you are asked to provide evidence of the attempts you have made to contact the absent parent or are asked for a solicitor's letter confirming that the absent parent cannot be traced.

The only way to guarantee that a Deed Poll will be effective is to obtain a court order permitting the parent with custody to change their child's name without the consent of the absent parent. If you and your child(ren) live in England or Wales, applying for a court order (known as a 'section 8' order) is not difficult so do not be put off from doing what you think will be a daunting experience. To download the application form (form C1) and leaflets (leaflets CB1, CB2 and CB3), click on this link, which will take you to the Court Service's download page.

To order the forms by telephone, click on this link to find your nearest Family Court (in England and Wales). Telephone the court and ask for an application form and leaflets to enable you to apply for a section 8 order. If you require assistance with obtaining a court order, you should see a solicitor or call in to your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Letter of consent
You may now wish to visit our example letters of consent page to identify which letter(s) you need to send to us after you have submitted your online application. Please
click on this link to go to the example letters page.

Last updated: 12 August 2003


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