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Child custody order prohibits change of children’s last name

Amidst all of the confusing terms and concepts that are found in most Las Vegas divorce decrees, it seems that “child custody” should be one of the simplest and most straight-forward. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Nevada family court judges usually distinguish between “physical custody” and “legal custody” when making their child custody determination, and each means something completely different.

This was made evident in a recent child custody case in New Jersey. There, an appeals court ruled that it was the parents’ legal custody agreement, and not their physical custody, that determined the outcome of the issue in the case.

The case was an ongoing dispute between two parents who had divorced in 2010. Following their divorce, the mother wanted to change the last names of the couple’s two children to her last name. She began to do so on health insurance documents and school records. The father did not like this, however, and filed a motion to change the couple’s parenting time agreement.

In response, the mother filed a motion to have the children’s legal last name changed to hers. The family court judge granted her motion on the grounds that she had primary physical custody of the children.

When the father appealed, the appellate court overturned the judge’s decision. It ruled that legal, not physical, custody mattered in this matter. Because the parents had joint legal custody of the children, they were required to share “authority and responsibility for making major decisions regarding the welfare of the child,” including the decision of whether to change their names.

Source: Courier-Post, “Divorced duo fights over kids’ last names,” Jim Walsh, Jan. 20, 2012

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