Absentee dad wants daughter to have his last name

Dear Mrs Macaulay,

My daughter's father denied her from the early stages of my pregnancy and cut all communication. I was so depressed and sick throughout the pregnancy and tried to contact him multiple times, and he would say, "Wrong number" and hang up the call. I had other people call him and he did the same thing. I had a friend who assisted me and basically did everything and bought everything, and upon giving birth she became my child's godmother, and my daughter has her last name. Now, when my daughter is almost one, her dad did a DNA test and the results showed he was the father and now he wants to change her last name. I do not want her name to be changed. I have the papers to get a court date, but I need to know if I stand a chance of having her last name remaining as it is.

Whenever I read or learn about women suffering such separations and denials when they become pregnant while in a committed relationship with their lovers who impregnated them, I become very sad for them and their children and angry on their behalf. In such circumstances, I admit that I tend to think of such men in all the names which have been used for all time to refer to them. They have been referred to as arrogant, selfish, unfeeling users, losers, and deadbeat dads, among many others.

The thing which deeply also touches me from what you say in your letter is that upon your then partner's denial and cutting off all communication with you, you became depressed and were sick throughout the remainder of your pregnancy. The actual break was clearly very painful for you and this was made much worse by his continued rejection of every attempt to speak with him by you and others on your behalf.

You were blessed to have a friend who was in a position to provide all the assistance which you needed during the rest of your pregnancy and for your delivery of your child and for you both after her birth. It seems to me that your naming and appointing this friend as your daughter's godmother was certainly the right thing to do and your giving your child her last name as her surname was, in such circumstances, the only thing you felt was right and best for your child. This is fully understandable.

I find the DNA test rather confusing. How did that happen? Had he applied to the Family Court for a declaration of paternity and so the test was ordered? Or did you permit him access to your daughter so that they could take her specimen and have the test done? Was it done at one of the labs which are recognised by the court?

You state that you have the papers to get a court date. I am not sure what you mean by this. Are you the one who is applying to the court for a declaration? Or is he the one? If you are the applicant, you should also apply for sole custody until he proves himself as an interested and committed father. You must also apply for a realistic maintenance order for him to provide for his child.

If the DNA test he did was not a court-directed one, you should apply for it to be done again unless he admits his paternity to the court. If the declaration of paternity is made and you obtain your sole custody order, and he is awarded access (which he should because your daughter has the lawful right to know her father and her paternal family and have a relationship with him and them), since she is so young, you should insist both because of his past hands-off conduct and the fact that she is so young, that he has supervised access. The supervisor, I advise, should be her godmother, but you must obtain her agreement and the hours and the place where it should occur once a week and how and when the access periods would increase as she grows older.

Now, as to her last name, though the child normally bears the father's last name as his or her surname, there are circumstances when some children do not. One such, is yours. He had made it clear that he had no interest in your child and, in fact, his conduct was clearly a declaration that he had concluded that your child was not his but some other person's. He was not around for her birth and in the months after. So clearly at the reporting of her birth to the hospital registrar of birth, the surname you gave for you child could not have been his as he had completely denied any relationship with her and stated loud and clear that he had no interest in her. You had every right to name her as you did. In such circumstances, a mother would either give her child her surname or, as you did, that of the person who stood squarely by you and your child throughout the months of your pregnancy, your illness, and your delivery. She clearly holds your child's interests at heart and is clearly also committed to her full and proper development.

In fact, if he does obtain a declaration of paternity, if your daughter's godmother agrees, you should apply that he repays her all she expended on your behalf due to your pregnancy and labour/delivery and for your baby's birth necessities and thereafter, which he should have paid for and which he reneged from paying by reason of his denial of you and cutting off of all communication.

I see no reason why you child cannot retain her current name as part of her surname. If her biological father is granted a declaration of his paternity, he would be entitled to enjoy his legal rights as her father and be responsible to meet all his legal obligations/duties as her father. So you can insist on a double-barrelled surname for her and thus merely add his surname to her existing one. I hope you and her godmother could live with this suggestion.

I do not believe that he is in a position to dictate that she must bear his surname only. He lost this position because of his denial and continuous blocking of all communication with you and from persons on your behalf, and for almost a year after her birth. Further, it does not seem that he has made any offer of assuming any material or other responsibility for her necessities, or made any offer to repay her godmother's payments. You must be strong with her godmother's continued presence in her life to protect your child from any arrogant and selfish attitudes and conduct from her father and insist on his loving and caring attention as an adequate provider for all her necessities.

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.

Margarette MACAULAY

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