The attorneys at the Pecos Law Group have prevailed in their attempts to ensure that parents, regardless of sex and marital status, have a fair opportunity to participate in the naming of their children. In the case, Petit v. Adrianzen, 133 Nev. Adv. Op. 15 (2017), recently published by the Nevada Supreme Court, the parents had agreed to the child’s first and middle names but disagreed on the child’s surname. The parties were estranged when their child was born, and the mother placed her surname on child’s birth certificate without the father’s knowledge or consent. Two months after the child’s birth, the father filed a complaint for divorce and petitioned the family court to change the child’s surname to Adrianzen. After reasoning that it was in the child’s best interest to have a surname that allowed the child to identify with both parents, the family court ordered that the child’s surname be changed to Petit-Adrianzen. When the mother appealed, the father hired the Pecos Law Group to defend the district court’s Solomonic decision to hyphenate the child’s last name.
In upholding the family court’s decision, the Nevada Supreme Court noted that there are generally two types of disputes that arise in naming a child. The first type is an initial naming dispute where the child’s parents never reached an agreement on the child’s surname and seek to have the issue resolved for the first time after the child is born and has been named by one parent without the consent of the other parent. The second type is a general change-of-name dispute where the parents originally agreed upon a surname for the child, but one parent later seeks to change the child’s surname.
In Petit, the mother argued that the family court had abused its discretion in renaming the child because the court had not applied a clear and compelling standard of proof. The Pecos Law Group argued that such a high standard of proof was inappropriate because the mother and father had never agreed on the child’s surname. Recognizing the issue to be one of first impression in Nevada, the Supreme Court held that, in initial naming situations, a best interest of the child standard of proof is sufficient and “neither parent should automatically have an advantage in determining a child’s surname at birth.”
Before Petit, the parent who won the race to the Nevada Department of Vital Statistics had a distinct advantage in the naming of their child. Given their obvious proximity to the child’s birth, mothers typically had a huge head start in this race. The Petit case now levels the playing field in initial naming cases and ensures that both parents, regardless of sex and marital status, get to share in one of the first and most fundamental decisions of their child’s life.