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January 24, 2020
Appellate Victory for Best & Flanagan in Minnesota Supreme Court

On Tuesday, January 22, 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an opinion in favor of Best & Flanagan’s client, a single mother seeking to change the names of her minor children without providing notice to the children’s putative biological father. The Supreme Court reversed a decision from the Court of Appeals requiring notice to the putative father, who has not taken steps to establish a legal relationship with the children.

Katie Barrett Wiik successfully argued on behalf of the appellant that the language of the notice provision of Minn. Stat. § 259.10, subd. 1 (2018) does not require notice to the putative father, because he is not a legal parent. In establishing the requirements for changing a name, section 259.10 states that “no minor child’s name may be changed without both parents having notice of the pending of the application for change of name, whenever practicable, as determined by the court.” The term “both parents” is not defined in the statute.

J.M.M. is the only parent listed on her children’s birth certificates, and no one had been adjudicated as their father. Where the lower courts had concluded that the phrase “both parents” in the name-change statute refers to biological parents, the Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that the Legislature intended only to require notice of a name-change hearing to a child’s legal parents. The Court determined that J.M.M. was the sole “legal parent with authority to apply to change her children’s names.”

In the opinion, Justice Lillehaug reasoned, “As we will see, in this case, only J.M.M., not the biological father, had the right to choose the children’s names. If we were to decide that notice to [the putative father] was required under section 259.10, it would create the anomalous result that he would be entitled to have a legal say about changing a name over which he had no legal say in the first place.”

This opinion provides important clarity that individuals who are the sole legal parents to their children have the right to change their children’s names without providing notice of the name change hearing to any other party. The decision is also helpful guidance to district court judges and court personnel, who often handle name-change proceedings.

Katie Barrett Wiik was the lead appellate attorney and argued the case to the Supreme Court. Haynes Hansen of Robins Kaplan LLP was co-counsel.

To read the full opinion, please see: A17-1730