Family and Matrimonial Law Associate Marcus Ho was mentioned in the Straits Times article titled "Court reverses mum's move to change child's name, race"

Family and Matrimonial Law Associate Marcus Ho was mentioned in the Straits Times article titled "Court reverses mum's move to change child's name, race"
08 Oct 2018

Eversheds Harry Elias Family and Matrimonial Law Associate Marcus Ho was mentioned in the Straits Times article titled "Court reverses mum's move to change child's name, race". The article was first published on 08 October 2018.

Court reverses mum's move to change child's name, race

10-year-old girl in guardian's care has grown up as Eurasian, identifies with name: Judge

A mother's move to change the name, surname and Eurasian race of her 10-year-old daughter - who is under the joint custody of a guardian - has been overturned by a district judge.

In a novel case involving a legal tussle between the mother and the daughter's guardian over the change in name and race, the court also made clear that guardians have the right to be consulted, and have their consent sought for such decisions.

In judgment grounds released on Wednesday last week, District Judge Eugene Tay wrote: "The child has grown up with and has identified herself with her former name and surname, and has known herself to be Eurasian.

"The effect of the recent change of name and surname would, if it remains unchanged, cause the child considerable confusion, difficulties and embarrassment, especially since the child is currently enrolled in school and leading a regular life."

The guardian's brother is the stepfather of the child's mother. She has been the child's appointed guardian since July 2011.

The guardian and the mother are joint guardians of the child, which means they have joint custody.

A court agreement last December also clarified their roles as joint guardians and provided for the mother's access to the child, among other things. The court noted there is no father's name stated on the birth certificate.

In August last year, the mother executed a Deed Poll, together with an unnamed person, to change the child's name from D to F, and the surname from H to J. It is not stated in the judgment what the mother wanted the child's new race to be.

No one involved in the case was identified by name in the judgment.

The guardian then applied to the Family Court in February to void the Deed Poll and declare that the name should remain as D, and the race remains Eurasian. The guardian's lawyer Marcus Ho said the mother had breached her custodial rights as guardian in changing the name without consulting the joint guardian.

But the mother, who was defended by Ms Lim Lei Theng, a lawyer appointed under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, said the guardian's court move was an unjustified interference with her parental rights as a mother, which the guardian did not possess.

The mother said her move was made after she changed her own name, and it was natural that she would do the same for her child. The mother believed that the child, in doing so, would retain the identity and familial bond and links with her and her family.

The judge said "there is no reported local case dealing with the present factual scenario involving a guardian appointed under the Guardianship of Infants Act and natural parents in relation to the change of a child's name, as far as I know".

He made clear that the statutorily appointed guardian has the right to be consulted, and her consent obtained, on any intended name or race change by the mother.

He noted the mother did not explain the "many factors" that led her to change her own name other than that it was a personal decision.

The mother did not show how the name change would benefit the child or be in the child's best interest and welfare, the judge added.

He said it is not necessary for the child to take a parent's surname for the child to know who the parent is.

In this case, the judge said that besides having to struggle to come to terms with her new name and identity, the child would also face questions over the change in name and race.

He said: "All these should not be what a child her age should have to experience unnecessarily, and without compelling reasons, and would not be, in my judgment, in the child's best interest and welfare." The judge also ordered that the Deed Poll for the changes, executed by the mother last year, be set aside.

Author: K.C. Vijayan, The Straits Times

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Foo Siew Fong

Head, Family and Matrimonial Law
+65 6361 9805
+65 6438 3777

Koh Tien Hua

Co-Head, Family and Matrimonial Law and Private Client Advisory
+65 6361 9895
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