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D.W v. T.L

October 11, 2011

D.W.,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
T.L., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



CIVIL APPEAL FROM CLINTON COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS JUVENILE DIVISION Case No. 20094105

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Powell, P.J.

Cite as

D.W. v. T.L.,

OPINION

{¶1} A mother argues in her appeal that a juvenile court decision changing her five- year-old son's last name to the biological father's surname was not in the child's best interests. We affirm the decision as we do not find the juvenile court abused its discretion.

{¶2} In September 2009, father asked the Clinton County Juvenile Court to determine paternity and establish parental rights and responsibilities for L.D.W.L., born June 24, 2005.

{¶3} According to the record, the parties told the juvenile court magistrate at the beginning of the 2010 trial that they had already stipulated to paternity and had now resolved by agreement most issues related to parental rights and responsibilities, except the child's surname. Mother argues that father orally requested the name change at that hearing; no written motion on the name change is contained in the record.

{¶4} After conducting a hearing on the matter, the juvenile court magistrate found it was in the child's best interest for the child to be given father's surname. Mother filed objections. The juvenile court issued a separate decision overruling the objections and finding the name change in the child's best interest. Mother appealed, raising three assignments of error for our review.

{¶5} Assignment of Error No. 1:

{¶6} "THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN CHANGING THE CHILD'S NAME FROM [L.D.W.L.] TO [L.D.L.W.]."

{¶7} Under "R.C. 3111.13(C), a court of common pleas may determine the surname by which the child shall be known after establishment of the existence of the parent and child relationship, and a showing that the name determination is in the best interest of the child." Bobo v. Jewell (1988), 38 Ohio St.3d 330, paragraph one of the syllabus.

{¶8} In determining the best interest of the child in the circumstance where unmarried parents contest a surname, the court should consider: (1) the length of time that the child has used a surname, (2) the effect of a name change on the father-child relationship and on the mother-child relationship, (3) the identification of the child as part of a family unit,

(4) the embarrassment, discomfort or inconvenience that may result when a child bears a surname different from the custodial parent's name, (5) the preference of the child if the child is of an age and maturity to express a meaningful preference and (6) any other factor relevant to the child's best interest. Id. paragraph two of the syllabus; see, also, In re Willhite, 85 Ohio St.3d 28, 1999-Ohio-201.

{ΒΆ9} An appellate court is not free to substitute its judgment for that of the trial court when reviewing a decision that a child's surname should be changed. Jarrells v. Epperson (1996), 115 Ohio App.3d 69, 71. A reviewing court should also presume the trial court's findings are accurate, since the trial judge is best able to view the witnesses and observe their demeanor, gestures, and voice inflections and use these ...


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