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In re Name Change of J.P.H

Supreme Court of South Dakota

June 10, 2015

IN THE MATTER OF THE NAME CHANGE OF J.P.H, a minor child

Considered on Briefs April 20, 2015

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT GREGORY COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA. HONORABLE JOHN L. BROWN, Judge.

STEVEN R. COTTON, Wipf & Cotton Law Offices, LLC, Wagner, South Dakota, Attorneys for petitioner and appellant T.J.H.

SANDY J. STEFFEN, Gregory, South Dakota, Attorney for respondent and appellee M.P.L.

SEVERSON, Justice. GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and ZINTER, WILBUR, and KERN, Justices, concur.

OPINION

Page 489

SEVERSON, Justice

[¶1] T.J.H. (Father) appeals the circuit court's decision to grant M.P.L.'s (Mother's) request to change J.P.H.'s (Son's) surname. Son's name was changed to a hyphenated surname, combining Mother's and Father's last names. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] Mother and Father were married at the time of Son's birth in 2009, and Son received the surname of his Father. Mother and Father divorced shortly after Son's birth. It was stipulated during the divorce that Mother would have primary physical custody of Son. Mother and Son moved from Madison, South Dakota, to her hometown of Gregory, South Dakota, after the divorce. Mother subsequently met M.L. (Stepfather). The two married in June 2012 and live in Burke, South Dakota.

[¶3] In May 2014, Mother and Stepfather had a baby girl (Stepsister). During Mother's pregnancy, Son began to ask questions about Stepsister's name. When Son learned Stepsister's surname would be different than his surname, Son burst into tears because he wanted the same surname as Stepsister. During the remainder of Mother's pregnancy, Son had multiple conversations with Mother, Father, Stepfather, and grandparents about why his surname was different. Son expressed confusion over his family situation. He would normally call his Father " Daddy" and his Stepfather " Daddy M.," but after a conversation with Father, Son started using the designations " real" and " not real" to refer to Father and Stepfather, respectively. Son even asked Mother whether she was his " real" mother or if Father and his new fiancé were his " real parents." Mother, Stepfather, and Son's maternal grandmother reassured Son that he had two daddies, two mommies, and two sets of grandparents and that each of those people loved him very much.

[¶4] Mother filed a petition for Son's name change in December 2013. The circuit court heard the matter in June 2014. Mother testified, " We want [Son] to feel as much a part of our family as [Father's] family. In my opinion, it's equal, you know, but we do have [Son] the majority of the time so we want him to be able to identify with our family." Stepfather testified that the hyphenated name change will help Son identify with both families and help alleviate confusion. Father opposed the name change because he felt like it would only add to Son's confusion and that the name change should be Son's decision when he is 18 years old. However, Father said he would continue to love Son regardless of a potential name change.

[¶5] Father has been an active parent since Son's birth. Father has always paid his child support obligation and has consistently utilized his visitation (every other weekend) with Son whenever it is possible to do so. Father, Mother, and Stepfather have an amicable relationship, and Father commented on how well Stepfather treats Son. Stepfather is also active in Son's life and takes Son to school, to football practice, and fishing.

[¶6] After testimony at the hearing from Mother, Stepfather, maternal grandmother, two other witnesses for Mother, and Father, the circuit court issued a memorandum opinion incorporating its findings on July 16, 2014. An order was filed on July 29, 2014. The court found that Son's name change was in his best interests. The court granted Mother's ...


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