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Family Court judge chooses double-barrelled surname for child in foster care after “unusual” local authority application

An "unusual" application from a local authority has seen a Family Court judge decide that a child should have a double-barrel surname which includes their foster carer's name.

In S, Re (Change of Surname: Child in Foster Care) [2021] EWFC B42 the birth father, birth mother, guardian and the local authority each supported different surnames.

Her Honour Judge McKinnell decided that giving the child a double-barreled surname with the mother's name and foster parent's name included would allow the child to use both parts of her name as she chooses, provided a maternal link to her family, and was the most "future-proof" option.

The child, referred to in the proceedings as "S", is a 9-year-old girl who suffered significant harm and neglect when she was in the care of her mother and her mother's partner. She was given the surname of the mother's partner ("SF"), who the mother lived with when she was born. SF was named as S's father and is named as her father on her birth certificate.

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She was removed from their care when she was four years old following evidence that both her mother and SF had abused and neglected her. While in their care, S alleged that SF sexually abused her.

An order terminated SF's parental responsibility for S in March 2021 during the recent proceedings.

All of the parties agreed that S should no longer have SF's surname in light of the findings and allegations made against him.

For the last five years, S has lived with the same foster care family. The foster parent chose not to adopt S in order to continue having the support and services available to her and S as S's foster carer.

During the care proceedings in 2016, the court identified S's biological father and informed him of the proceedings and hearing date, but he did not participate. However, in the 2021 proceedings, the father made an application for parental responsibility and said he was committed to being a part of S's life.

HHJ McKinnell granted his application for parental responsibility.

All of the parties had differing opinions on what name S should take. The mother told the court that she wanted S's surname to be changed to her own. The father's position was that her name should be changed to his, but he said he would support a double-barrelled surname with the foster parent's first and his second also.

The local authority initially said S should take her mother's surname only, but changed its position to supporting a double-barrelled surname, with the foster parent's surname first, followed by the mother's surname.

Lastly, the guardian told the court they believed S should take the surname of the foster parent only.

Judge McKinnell considered the different combinations of surname one by one. She first tackled the inclusion of the foster parent's surname, saying there was an "obvious benefit" in the fosterer's name being included on S's surname.

"It would reflect S's positive lived experience over the last five years with FC. It would recognise the reparative parenting and commitment that FC has shown towards S over the last five years," the judge said.

She added: "It would reflect the continuing commitment that FC has to S and the close bond and attachment between S, FC and FC's family. S wants to have FC's surname."

HHJ McKinnell also acknowledged that S would have the freedom to choose to use part of her double-barrelled name if that is what she wants to do at any particular time.

Arguing for the mother's surname not to be included in S's surname, the guardian said that S needed to put her history behind her and no longer have an association, through her surname, with her mother and the abuse and neglect that she experienced and suffered when she lived with her mother.

However, the judge said that children's surnames are "not routinely changed after the Court makes findings of significant harm, even findings of deliberate or inflicted injuries". Additionally, the judge recognised the element of uncertainty around whether S would remain in the foster parent's care in the future.

The judge said: "If S is not able to continue to live with FC in the future, S may not want to have a surname that reflects a family (FC's) that she no longer lives with and is not related to. S has already been given a surname of a person she is not related to."

With a double-barrelled surname that includes FC's surname, S would be able to choose whether she uses both parts of her surname or just one part of it, the judge said. "A double-barrelled surname will provide S with more flexibility as she gets older and it would be more future-proof."

Turning to the possibility of retaining the mother's surname as part of S's double-barrelled surname, HHJ McKinnell said that the combination recognises that S did live with her mother for the first four years of her life. "It will help S to know where she comes from, what her maternal birth family were called and is likely to help S with her sense of identity."

She added: "I agree with the allocated social worker's evidence that a double-barrelled name 'is a balanced and proportionate way of maintaining [S's] identity and listening to her wishes and feelings. It is a realistic option that will allow [S] to use both parts of her name, or either, as she chooses and allows her to see her maternal family link as part of her identity, paving the way for her to see things differently in the future.'"

HHJ McKinnell also said it was unlikely that anyone would be saying that S's surname should now be changed if the mother had given S her own surname at birth.

The judge did not consider that it would be in S's best interests to take her father's name because "she does not know him, she has not spent time with him, she is settled with FC and she does not want his surname".

HHJ McKinnell found that it was in S's best interests that her surname be changed from SF's to a double-barrelled surname, with the first part being FC's surname and the second part being the mother's surname.

She added: "The father should not see this as marginalising his role. His role will depend on his commitment. He has made a good start and I hope he will continue in the same way. He is part of a large family and S may benefit from knowing them in the future."

Adam Carey 

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