Changing a Child’s Surname in Arizona
In Arizona in yesteryear, a father had a protected interest in his child having his last name. Is this still the law in Arizona despite the arrival of parenting equality? Does it matter if the child is born to two parents who were not married to each other? In Pizziconi v. Yarbrough, 868 P.2d 1005 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1993), the Arizona Court of Appeals discussed these issues.
Facts of the Case
Mr. Pizziconi and Mrs. Yarbrough are the natural parents of a child who was born in 1986. They never married each other. Mrs. Yarbrough married someone else who was interested in adopting the child. This caused Mr. Pizziconi to file a paternity suit and ask that the child carry his surname.
Mrs. Yarbrough opposed this. She requested the court to order Mr. Pizziconi to pay the birth costs as well as back child support. The court denied Mr. Pizziconi’s request that the child has his surname. The judge ruled that the child’s name should be “Yarbrough.” This was Mrs. Yarbrough’s name, her former husband’s name and the name of their other child.
The judge also ordered Mr. Pizziconi to pay overdue child support of $6,959.00, monthly child support of $307.00, and Mrs. Yarbrough’s attorney’s fees. Mr. Pizziconi appeals.
The Child’s Surname
Mr. Pizziconi argues that both he and the child have a protected interest in having the child bear his last name. He relies primarily on the case of Laks v. Laks, 540 P.2d 1277 (1975). In that case, a mother changed her children’s surnames after a divorce. She had them use the father’s and her surname hyphenated.
The Laks court ordered that the paternal surname is reinstated since the “usual custom” gives a father a protectable interest in the child’s last name. The court observed that the bond between a child and its noncustodial father could be weakened if the child’s names were changed.
However, unlike the facts in the Laks case, the child in this case never bore Mr. Pizziconi’s surname. He initially said he did not wish to be involved with the child. Under Arizona law, an unmarried mother may not use the putative father’s name on the birth certificate without his consent.
Also, while a father has a protectable interest based on the custom of giving legitimate children their father’s surname, Mr. Pizziconi never married Mrs. Yarbrough. For children born out of wedlock, the custom is for the child to assume the mother’s name.
The Court noted that today a mother’s interest in surnames is as high as a father’s. Society has recognized parental equality. Therefore, it is not a given that the child of unmarried parents should bear the father’s surname.
Mr. Pizziconi asks that the issue is remanded to the trial court to consider specific factors bearing on whether it is in the child’s best interest for the surname to be changed. No Arizona statute or case requires express findings on this issue. The Court of Appeals assumed that the trial court found every controverted issue of fact necessary to sustain its decision. There is sufficient evidence to support the inferential finding that a change of name was not in the child’s best interest.
The Child had used the name “Yarbrough” for four years. Her half-brother uses that name, and Mrs. Yarbrough also uses it.
Past Child Support
The trial judge used the Arizona Child Support Guidelines to compute the amount due. Mr. Pizziconi argued that the case should be remanded for a determination of the sum Mrs. Yarbrough spent on the child during that period.
Except for evidence of the expenses of birth and health care, Mrs. Yarbrough never testified in detail regarding what she spent on the child. She did testify that she had borne all the expenses dating from the birth of the child. The child lived with her continuously, except for occasional visits with Mr. Pizziconi.
The affidavits detailing income and expenses as well as tax returns were admitted in evidence. The amounts awarded as back child support match the amounts calculated as Mr. Pizziconi’s obligation under the Guidelines. The trial judge did give Mr. Pizziconi credit for $10,000 which he paid for the Child’s support over those years.
The Court of Appeals determined that the lower court’s method of determining past child support was appropriate. The Guidelines are an estimate of the cost of child support which takes into account the financial circumstances of the parents.
Here, the trial judge had information about the Parents’ income and expenses. A natural father is legally obligated to support his child. An action for support can be brought at any time during a child’s minority. Neither laches nor estoppel bars a claim for child support absent prejudice. The trial judge correctly inferred that Mr. Pizziconi had not suffered sufficient prejudice from the delay to bring laches or estoppel into play.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the orders of the trial court.