Legal paternity and name change

In the Netherlands, if a child is born without registration of a father, a child will bear their mother’s surname. But what happens to a child’s surname if legal paternity is established later on?

Legal paternity and name change

Legal paternity

The Dutch Civil Code stipulates that, that if a legal family relationship is established between a father and a child through recognition after birth, the child will keep the the mother’s surname. That is unless the mother and father jointly declare at the time of recognition that the child will bear the surname of the father from then on. Parties can register legal paternity themselves or a court can determine legal paternity later on. The recognition of the father will be added to the child’s birth certificate.

What if the parents do not agree on a surname?

Dutch law does not offer any specific alternatives if the parents do not agree on a name. In that case the mother’s surname is registered. The Dutch Supreme court previously held that it is not discriminatory that a child automatically receives its mother’s surname.

Can the courts intervene?

In a case from January 2023 before the appeal court, a newly recognised father requested the court to order a child’s surname to be changed to his own. The case involved a recently born baby boy.

The father argued that it was important that the child bears his surname. By giving the child his surname, the father will play an important role in his son’s life. Furthermore, in view of his age, his son does not yet identify himself with his surname. Changing its surname will not have a major impact on the child.

The mother argued that she was being put under undue pressure to change her son’s name. The child has already been registered with its surname with doctors, daycare and on all official documents. Her surname is just as important as the father’s for the identity of the child.

Because of this and other disputes the child protection board (Raad voor de kinderbescherming) was involved with the case. The rapporteur stated that is was more important that the father proved himself a good father in other ways. The board advised the court to reject the petition and keep the mother’s surname in order to bring the matter to a close.

The court decision

The appeal court held that there was no legitimate reason to change the child’s surname. The father did not provide sufficient insight into why his interest in changing the surname of the child should outweigh the interest of the mother or child to keep the surname it was given at birth.

The case seems to leave space for other circumstances in which a surname change could be permitted. The argument: ‘I would rather the child has my name’ is, however, not a relevant one.

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