Why must my child's name be changed after declaration of paternity?

All Woman

Dear Mrs Macaulay,
I turned my back on a relationship in which I was terribly abused, but still did my best to facilitate the father-child relationship (without compromising my safety). He showed some interest and helped a little during the first year, but when he realised I was serious about not re-entering the relationship, he abandoned the child completely. I approached the court to obtain sole custody, care and control, which were granted. The court would have facilitated visitation in a public setting, but this was not ordered given lack of interest, refusal to help, and threats made to me by the father. He had denied paternity before birth, and even after the DNA results came back in court, he told the judge that I “arranged” for him to be named as the father.

The baby was given my maiden name at birth but the father stated in court that he would only show interest if the baby had his surname. The judge only said that the father's particulars would be added to the birth certificate, and no discussion or mutual agreement was had on changing the surname.

On collecting the custody document, I received the letter of request for the Registrar General's Department (RGD) as well. It requests that the RGD add the father's particulars in lines 9-12, AND that the surname be changed to that of the father. It doesn't even state that the father's name be added to the original — but a complete change! How can this be?

Is it that the addition of the father's particulars automatically results in a change of surname? Is this not two different things? Please advise of what can be done. The baby is identified by his original surname and a number of official documents were already obtained. In addition, given the circumstances, I just do not believe that this is fair — neither to the child nor to me.

The order of the judge following the declaration of paternity was in line with the law — the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act — and was that your son's father's name, age at his son's birth, occupation, and his birthplace be entered in the RGD's register of your son's birth. That is what the law requires in circumstances after the statutory period for the insertion of such particulars has passed. It is clear that the judge did not make any order for the name, or the name you gave your son to be altered, but that his father's particulars be added, not to the birth certificate, but to the RGD's register of your son's birth in paragraphs 9-12 thereof, which is pursuant to the provisions of the Act. This means that when you obtain a certified copy of your son's birth certificate after such entry in the register, you will see on it that these paragraphs are filled in, whereas before they were blank.

If you check your son's birth certificate you will see what particulars are to be inserted in lines 9 to 12, and they are only the father's name and surname, age at the time of the birth, occupation and birthplace. Nothing more. Then note that you child's birth and particulars are in lines 1— the district of the birth; 2— the parish; 3— the birth number; 4 — the place of birth; 5 — the date of birth; 6 — the sex; 7 — the name of the child, which then sends you to line 26 of the certificate. If the letter given to you to take with the declaration of paternity to the RGD included a direction for them to change the surname of the child, this would be ultra vires (acting or done beyond one's legal power or authority) to the court's declaration and order and is therefore null and void.

There is generally, in fact, no designated surname on birth certificates. It is a practice that from the particulars of the father — his surname — is entered, it becomes the child's surname. You will see that there is no line in any birth certificate which requires the entry of the child's surname.

From what I understand, you named your son when his birth was reported to the registrar of the RGD at the hospital where your son was born and added your last name as part of his names. And since the judge did not order that line 26 be amended, those names cannot be changed.

What can be done or what must be done is that you must insist that the judge's order be scrupulously followed to the letter as announced in court and signed by the judge. No one other that the judge can amend the order — and even the judge cannot do so after signing it, that is after it has been perfected, only a Court of Appeal can alter it. A letter from the court's office certainly cannot alter it.

Please obtain a certified copy of the order made by the judge and if the addendum for the surname to be changed appears on it, you can apply for the error on the face of the order to be corrected or varied.

You have not stated whether you have been to the RGD for the father's particulars to be entered in the register of your son's birth record which will bear his birth number. If you have not been, it may be that you are worrying unnecessarily. If you have been there and you were told that your son's last name will be altered and his birth certificate will show an altered last name, refuse such and act as being unauthorised by law and return to the Family Court for the letter to be rewritten to be in line with the court's actual order. If this is refused, you should see the clerk administrator of the court about it and if this fails, you should insist on seeing the judge, or make the application I suggested above and produce the letter when you are before the court so the judge can be fully informed of the attempted alteration of the order.

There is absolutely no reason for any of the names you gave your son to be changed — only that the father's particulars be entered in lines 9 to 12 of your son's birth records in the RGD's register. These particulars are important for your son as they are evidence of the fact that he is in fact a child of the named father and is entitled to what this fact entitles him in law — for example, to maintenance contributions and to share in his father's estate, without further proof of paternity.

I hope I have clarified the position for you and that you resolve an addendum in the letter to the RGD.

All the best wishes.

I take this opportunity to wish all my readers and all other people in Jamaica good health and safety from infection from COVID-19. The best way to do so is to abide by all the directives of the Government to stay home and practise proper hygiene. Let us stay home if we feel any symptoms and contact the Ministry of Health if the symptoms escalate. May God bless and protect all of us.

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.


The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.




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