I’ve heard plenty of attorneys urge couples to resolve their divorce-related disputes themselves for two reasons. One, why would you want a stranger deciding issues on which you and your partner are the undeniable experts and two, judges are bound by laws and the ruling for which you’re hoping may simply be beyond the scope of the laws.
If you need some extra motivation to negotiate, compromise or otherwise resolve things with your ex, consider this case that hit the headlines this week.
A Tennessee couple were involved in a child support dispute which included a disagreement over the last name of their seven-month old son. The child’s name was Messiah DeShawn Martin, with “Martin” being mom’s last name.
The operative word here is “was” because the judge broadened the scope of the question before her, took a disliking to the name “Messiah” calling it a title reserved for Jesus Christ, and ordered the child’s name changed to “Martin DeShawn McCullough,” something that neither parent requested but that the judge justified in that it now included the last names of both parents and what she deemed to be a more appropriate first name.
The case has garnered wide international media coverage and with the ACLU pledging support to help the parents appeal, it won’t be the last we hear of it. I am predicting (hoping?) the decision to be a career-limiting move for Child Support magistrate Lu Ann Ballew – fear of judicial overreach will surely cloud her promotion prospects no matter who’s doing the appointing.
Family law attorney Michelle Stoll of Kapsak Law, in Longmont, CO said while she couldn’t comment on the specifics of the Tennessee case, “It's always best if the parties in a divorce can agree between themselves how to solve the problems before them. That way the parties are the architects of the solution, and not a judicial officer who may not be familiar with the intricacies of their case. No one is in a better position to understand and execute the best outcome than the parties themselves.”
Changing a child’s name following divorce can be hard. Generally there is no mechanism to do this as part of divorce proceedings themselves which means you’ll likely have to go to court to do it and the rules differ by state. Judges are unlikely to grant requests unless the change is supported by both parents and expecting an uninvolved parent to just go along with request would be simply naive. As this Martin case demonstrates emotions and opinions run rampant when it comes to names.