Idaho Supreme Court rules custody not required to change a child’s name.

By Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

Parents do not need to have custody of their children to change their name according to a new Idaho Supreme Court Decision.

On Wednesday, the Idaho Supreme Court released its opinion on Hayes v. Medioli. The Court ruled unanimously in favor of Massimo Medioli, allowing him to change his son’s last name from Hayes to Medioli Hayes. 

Dena Hayes, the boy’s mother and the petitioner, filed suit after hearing that Medioli sought a name change for their son. Hayes and Medioli were not married when their son was born, and his last name on the birth certificate was Hayes. In 2018, Hayes was awarded sole custody of their son.

Medioli sought the name change in 2018, and the magistrate court heard the case in 2019.

The magistrate court sided with Medioli, claiming that the name change is right and proper per Idaho Code 7-804. This section of Idaho Code lays out the process for objecting to name changes and clarifies that the court is able to approve or deny name changes based on what they see as right and proper. “I haven’t heard anything today that convinces me that changing the child’s name so that it includes his father’s name is not right and proper,” magistrate judge Lynette McHenry wrote.

Hayes appealed to the district court, which sided with Medioli and also awarded him attorney fees for Hayes’ “frivolous” appeal. She then appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. 

Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan, writing for the majority, found that “[t]he Legislature, by using ‘right and proper,’ clearly affixed broad authority to trial courts to grant or deny name change applications.” The magistrate court had the authority to approve the name change, and properly applied Idaho Code when making that decision. 

Idaho Code 7-804, Bevan found, “does not provide any specific factors for a court to consider in making its decision whether an application to change a name should or should not be granted.”

However, the Court did reverse the award of attorney fees, finding that Hayes presented a “novel legal question”. The Court ruled in Hoagland v. Ada County (2013) that attorney fees are not awarded when arguing a novel legal question.

Justice Roger Burdick wrote a concurring opinion stating while the majority used the “totality of the circumstances” standard of review, he preferred to use a “best interests of the child” standard. Burdick further cautioned that “the nefarious reasons for changing a child’s name could be numerous and, unfortunately, easily come to mind: immigration fraud, unlawful custody, and human trafficking. Additionally, children should be protected from ill-conceived attempts to burden them with unseemly names that will cause them difficulty and embarrassment in the future.” 

While noting that the “talented trial courts” have great responsibility in applying the totality of the circumstances standard, he adds that the standard “can encompass the same considerations that a ‘best interests of the child’ standard would.”

Justice Gregory Moeller signed onto Burdick’s concurrence.

Parental rights have long been a priority for the legislature. This session, bills ranging from vaccination requirements to sexuality education have come forth to preserve the rights of parents over their children’s health and education. These fights typically do not involve the rights of parents against each other.

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