Turning 18 brings adult responsibilities and rights. For some of today’s youth, that may mean making a change to their name. At the age of 18, a child can petition the court to change their name for various reasons, and it is seldom not within their right to do so. Yet, with recent celebrity kids taking the step to drop their father’s last name, you may be wondering what the rules are and what the benefit of kids changing their last name after divorce is – and what the laws are about adult or minor children dropping their dad’s surname.

At Jersey Coast Family Law, our attorneys can help you with a New Jersey name change due to divorce or a family law issue or take steps to try and prevent this from occurring. Contact our experienced, compassionate family law attorneys for support.

Celebrities Are Dropping Father’s Names for Various Reasons

In recent news, two notable such situations occurred just recently. The first is Shiloh, the now-18-year-old daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who is said to have paid for her own attorney to drop Pitt’s last name. Now, her name will simply be “Shiloh Jolie” instead of “Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.” She’s not the first in her family to drop her father’s last name. Her siblings Zahara, Madox and Vivienne, only use the “Jolie” component in their names. There’s no public insight into why these actions were taken, but the action was purported to hurt Brad Pitt very much and he is anxious to rebuild his relationship with all his children after parental alienation by his exwife, Anglina Jolie. .

Another well-known celebrity child, Suri Cruise also made headlines recently when she decided to drop her father’s last name in a school play. Suri, who is the daughter of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, just turned 18. In a recent play, she used her mother’s middle name on the playbill simply being listed as “Suri Noelle.” An adult child legally dropping a father’s last name in NJ is possible and there are various reasons why it may be done.

It is also possible for children to stop using their legal last name without making a legal change.

Legal Process in New Jersey

A legal name change for adults in NJ always focuses on the legal process set under the state’s laws. There are several factors that are considered.

Age of Consent

The first factor is that the party has reached the age of consent. In New Jersey, this is 18. That means that a child that wishes to change their name can do so after they reach the legal adult age of 18. It cannot be done at a younger age without both parents agreeing or the court allowing it specifically.

Independent Action

Another factor that plays a role is documenting independent action. That means that young adults can make their own decisions about taking these actions. Consider, for example, Shiloh’s case. She used her own money and took her own steps to initiate the process. They do not need parental consent to change their name at this age. The legal age to change a name in NJ for anyone is 18 or older in most situations.

Court Approval Required

Also notable is that the court ultimately decides what happens next in any legal action. That is, the New Jersey Superior Court will determine if a person is given a legal name change based on that person’s petition to the court to do so. Factors like their desired reason and legal right to do so will be considered, and whether the decision is their choice, or if they are being manipulated to change their name.

The court will consider factors like whether the change in name is meant to hurt someone or could harm anyone else’s rights. They may also consider less-than-desirable reasons to make such a change, such as the risk of fraud or personal reasons why an adult child may not want to be legally associated by name with one or more parents.

Non-Legal Name Change

Children under the age of 18 have also been known to drop one parent’s name or take another’s without going through a legal process. It is widely reported that Brad Pitt’s minor daughter Vivienne no longer uses her father’s name on social media or as a production assistant in a playbill despite being only 15, and that Zahara introduced herself as Zahara Jolie when she joined the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha at Spelman College last year.

Family Dynamics

A child dropping a father’s last name in NJ may occur for various reasons. The family dynamics in any situation will play the ultimate role in what occurs. Some of the key factors to consider if your child is moving through this process include:

Estranged Relationships

There are many instances in which the pursuite of a name change after the age of 18 comes because the child has not had a positive relationship with the child (or no relationship at all). A strained relationship with a father can be a strong motivator for a name change in any family, famous or not.

Identity Exploration

Some children want to change their names because they do not want to be associated only with that family name. It makes sense, for example, that Suri wants to ensure that she gets the credit and support for her acting career rather than relying on her family’s last name to do so.

For some young adults, it is also about forging their own identity that is separate from their family lineage. It may not be related to negative feelings at all related to their family.

Open Communication

When it comes to legal name changes for adults in NJ, 18 is the age at which your child gets the legal right to make those decisions. The best way to navigate this type of situation as a parent may be to maintain open communication. In some situations, open communication with parents can create a highly beneficial outcome. It may help families navigate this seemingly hurtful process.

At the same time, be ready to face the outcome. Discussing the reasons behind the name change may foster an understanding and minimize hurt feelings. While the adult child may not intend to hurt the parent and simply want to explore their own future, open communication is critical in these situations. There is no way (in most cases) to prevent this from occurring, but open communication behind the “whys” can make a huge difference.

Legal Name Change Before The Age of 18 In New Jersey

If your child is under the age of consent and wants to change their legal surname without the other parent’s permission after a divorce is finalized, there may be options. New Jersey courts will consider what is in the best interest of the child:

  • If one parent’s parental rights are terminated.
  • If the petitioning parent has been unable to locate and notify the other parent.
  • How a name change will affect the child and their future relationship with both of their parents.
  • If there are extenuating circumstances where a name change will protect the privacy and rights of a minor child.
Our Experienced New Jersey Family Lawyers Can Help You

At Jersey Coast Family Law, we know that a legal name change for adult children in NJ can be a challenging blow to you and your relationship. Yet, we can help you navigate any legal matter that may be behind such a change. Contact our New Jersey family lawyers at 732-361-4718 to discuss your case with our experienced legal team.

It may not always be possible to simply prevent a now-adult from changing their name. Yet, with the help of our family law attorneys, we can provide insight into any strategies available to preserve those names. We have offices in Toms River and Red Bank to serve clients throughout New Jersey.

Where Family Comes First

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