9 August 2000

Parents battle over baby’s name

A separated Bradford couple are embroiled in a bitter court battle over the surname of their 16-month-old daughter. Both of the girl's parents, who cannot be named for legal reasons, want her to take their surname and have been granted legal aid to fight their case though the courts.

But in a dramatic twist yesterday two top judges at Civil Appeal Court in London overturned a Bradford County Court decision that the girl should be ordered to take her father's surname and ruled there should be a new trial - unless the parents come to an agreement in the meantime.

And Lord Justice Thorpe, who was sitting with Lord Justice Mummery, urged that every effort be made to reach a compromise "before more public funds are committed" to a re-trial of the surname issue.

The father had originally taken his former partner to court after she had given the girl her new boyfriend's surname on her birth certificate. During yesterday's appeal hearing barrister Julia Nelson, representing the mother, argued that she had as much right as the father for their baby to bear her name. Miss Nelson said if the baby had her father's surname it would be a "constant reminder" to her client of the serious domestic violence she claimed she endured during the couple's brief relationship.

Lord Justice Thorpe said he found it "somewhat bizarre", that the mother had entered the surname of her new boyfriend rather than her husband's on her daughter's birth certificate. But he added that the County Court judge's decision that the little girl should be known by her father's surname was "simply insupportable." He said that the judge had been obliged to give a reason for rejecting the mother's plea that her daughter be known by her maiden name "as a bare minimum to do justice between the parties." But, describing the case as "highly regrettable", he added: "It may already be said that there has been a disproportionate outflow of public funds in this case."

The court heard the couple had been married a year before the birth of their daughter but their relationship had been marred by violence. The couple were already separated by the time of the birth but were still married. At the London hearing yesterday the father's barrister insisted that, as he was married to the girl's mother and shared a surname at the time of her birth in March last year, his daughter should bear his name for the rest of her life.

Following the hearing Miss Nelson, said: "I think it's a victory for mothers who aren't listened to. "The judge at the original hearing failed to give proper consideration that the child should be allowed to be called by her mother's name. "He failed to take into consideration the relationship with her new boyfriend who was acting in place a parent and had been there at the birth." Miss Nelson said that the mother was now considering giving the girl her maiden name as a compromise to avoid further court hearings.