Mother loses legal fight to change child’s surname after divorce

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Sharna Jones – wanted to change child’s surname after divorce

A legal stoush has erupted between a mother and a father over whether their baby daughter should have a double-barrelled surname on her birth certificate.

The dispute arose when Caroline Springs woman Sharna Jones gave birth to a second child after her marriage with the girl’s father, Ryan Beves, had ended.

Ms Jones, who went by ‘Beves’ before the break-up, wanted to register her daughter’s surname as ‘Jones’.

“When we go to doctors’ appointments, I sign in as Jones and they sign in as Beves,” the primary care giver of the children said.

“There’s that stigma, the baby is nine months old and already she has a different name to her mum. I want the kids to know that whoever they’re with that they belong.”

However, Mr Beves objected to the idea, insisting the child use his surname, which had also been given to their first child.

“I don’t want to have two children with two different names,” Mr Beves said.


What is child’s surname after divorce?

Both parents lodged competing documents with the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, each indicating they wanted the child to have their own last name.

Victorian legislation allows for a child’s name to be chosen by the registry when parents are unable to agree.

Under its “Assign a Name Policy”, the registry bases its decision on maintaining consistency with other siblings or assigning both parents’ surnames in alphabetical order joined by a hyphen.

In July last year, the registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages sent a letter to both parents informing them the girl would have the father’s surname ‘Beves’ as it was the same as her sister.

Less than a week later, Ms Jones filed an application to challenge the decision at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Ms Jones told a hearing last week that as a compromise she wanted both surnames used with a hyphen. She said she intended to apply to change her four-year-old’s name, although no application had been made as she was advised to wait for the VCAT decision.

“To have your four-year-old say ‘you’re not my mummy because you have a different name’ is absolutely heartbreaking,” she told The Age.

Mr Beves told the tribunal that he did not consent to changing the name of either child and that he wanted consistency in their surnames.

“My older daughter has had my surname for four years. Why would I confuse her to change it? It was a waste of time,” he told The Age.

VCAT upheld the Births, Deaths and Marriages decision.

Senior tribunal member Gerard Butcher said the registry had followed its policy in assigning the name and that the siblings sharing surnames was more compelling than acknowledging both parents.

“I am satisfied that the maintenance of consistency between sibling surnames has primacy,” he wrote in his decision.

“Given that the older child’s surname is Beves I am satisfied that it is appropriate that the registrar’s decision to assign the surname Beves … is the correct and preferable decision.”

Ms Jones said she thought the tribunal chose the father’s name because it was the traditional way of doing things. She said she was told her kids could change their names at 18 if they wanted.

“Eighteen is a long way away,” she said.

“I’m absolutely gutted. It’s not for me, it’s for my kids.

“I think it’s the default, it’s the easy option. To me it’s insane, hyphenating them is the fair outcome.”

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Categories: Child's Name, Children's Rights, Divorce, Legal Proceedings
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