This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
B. R. S.-R.
Reversed and remanded
Becker County District Court
File No. CS001262
James W. Donehower, Thorwaldsen, Malmstrom, Sorum, Donehower, & Wilson, P.L.L.P., 1105 Highway Ten East, P.O. Box 1599, Detroit Lakes, MN 56502-1599 (for appellant father)
R.R., 114 East Maple Avenue, Frazee, MN 56544 (pro se respondent mother)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
Appellant-father challenges the trial court’s order granting respondent-mother’s motion to change the name of the parties’ child, contending that the court failed to make adequate findings of fact regarding the child’s best interests and improperly placed the burden of proof on appellant. Because the court’s sparse findings do not address the child’s best interests or need for the name change, or even suggest that the court applied the wrong standard of law, we reverse and remand.
The parties are the parents of B.R.S., born February 21, 1996. The parents were never married, and it is undisputed that B.R.S.’s birth certificate shows that she has her father’s surname. Respondent has custody of B.R.S., and appellant exercises regular visitation.
Respondent married in September 2000 and changed her name. She petitioned the court for the child to have a hyphenated name that combines father’s surname with mother’s new surname. At the hearing, respondent, her husband, and B.R.S.’s maternal grandmother testified in favor of the name change, and appellant testified against it. The court granted the name change on the record.
“This court reviews name changes under an abuse of discretion standard.” In re Welfare of C.M.G., 516 N.W.2d 555, 561 (Minn. App. 1994) (citation omitted). A trial court’s findings must be sustained unless clearly erroneous. Pikula v. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d 705, 710 (Minn. 1985).
In a contested name change over the objection of one parent, the court evaluates the best interests of the child to resolve the dispute. Minn. Stat. § 259.11(a) (2000); In re Application of Saxton, 309 N.W.2d 298, 300-01 (Minn. 1981); LaChapelle v. Mitten, 607 N.W.2d 151, 166 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. May 16, 2000), cert. denied, 121 S. Ct. 565 (2000). Case law has set out the following factors for the court to consider: (1) the preference of the child; (2) the length of time the child has borne a given name; (3) the degree of community respect associated with the present and proposed surname; (4) the effect of the change on the preservation and development of the child’s relationship with each parent; and (5) the difficulties, harassment, or embarrassment the child may experience from bearing the present or proposed surname. Saxton, 309 N.W.2d at 301. In weighing these factors, the trial court should set out its reasons for granting or denying the application. Id. In this case, the court’s brief statement on the record fails to show that it considered and weighed the factors.
Instead, the court issued its findings on the record, stating simply:
All right. * * * I’m going to grant their request for change of name. There’s been no substantial reason why the petition should be denied. The couple is married. That’s what their desires are. They’ve met the statutory requirements, and the petition’s granted.
The court’s sole inquiry into the best interests of the child was to ask B.R.S.’s maternal grandmother whether she thought the name change was in the child’s best interests, and she stated that it was. The court then confirmed with the grandmother that the petition was not for some improper purpose.
Because this inquiry and the court’s findings are inadequate, we reverse and remand for further findings. Requiring findings disciplines the court to state and apply the proper standards, informs the parties of the court’s rationale, and facilitates meaningful appellate review. Rosenfeld v. Rosenfeld, 311 Minn. 76, 82, 249 N.W.2d 168, 171 (1976); see also C.M.G., 516 N.W.2d at 561 (reversing and remanding because “[t]he failure to provide findings is an abuse of discretion” (citation omitted)).
This appeal invites a discussion of which party bears the burden of proof. Normally the proponent of a change would have the burden, but the name-change cases are silent about the burden of proof. The law assigns to the court some burden to solicit sufficient information to make findings on the critical factors. See Robinson v. Hansel, 302 Minn. 34, 36, 223 N.W.2d 138, 140 (1974) (requiring the court to find “clear and compelling [evidence] that the substantial welfare of the child necessitates such change”). As appellant states, it is not clear what standard the court applied. On remand, the court should open the record to permit the parties to offer additional evidence and for the court to make a proper inquiry into the best interests of the child. Cf. Lucas v. Lucas, 389 N.W.2d 744, 747 (Minn. App. 1986) (noting that a best-interests determination frequently requires direct judicial initiative to determine the facts and remanding for trial court “to uncover reliable evidence” (citation omitted)).
Appellant contends that this court can reverse without remanding to find the change is not in the child’s best interests because it would harm appellant’s relationship with B.R.S., as in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in Robinson, 302 Minn. at 35-36, 223 N.W.2d at 140 (“Society has a strong interest in the preservation of the parental relationship. * * * The link between a father and child in circumstances such as these is uncertain at best, and a change of name could further weaken, if not sever, such a bond.”). But Robinson addressed somewhat different concerns—the parties were married, and the petition did not request a hyphenated name. See Aitkin County Family Serv. Agency v. Girard, 390 N.W.2d 906, 908 (Minn. App. 1986) (questioning the weight of Robinson in cases where the biological parents were never married). Thus, the record does not mandate a reversal without remand.
Reversed and remanded.