This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the matter of the application of
Mary Suzanne Gilman
on behalf of Kallie Rose Queen.
Filed July 27, 2004
Blue Earth County District Court
File No. C3-03-2206
Mary Suzanne Gilman, 51441 – 176th Street, Lake Crystal, MN 56055 (pro se respondent)
Ryan B. Magnus, Brandt Law Office, 219 W. Nassau Street, P.O. Box 57, St. Peter, MN 56082 (for appellant Terry Wayne Queen)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.
Terry Wayne Queen appeals from a district court order granting, over his objection, an “Application for Name Change of a Minor Child” that was filed by pro se respondent Mary Suzanne Gilman. Respondent requested that the surname of the parties’ 14-year-old daughter be changed from “Queen” to “Gilman.” Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in granting the name change, where the only factor favoring the change was the child’s stated preference to do so. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the name change was in the child’s best interests, we affirm.
A district court’s decision to grant or deny a name change is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. In re Welfare of C.M.G., 516 N.W.2d 555, 561 (Minn. App. 1994). The court must grant an application to change a minor child’s name unless the court finds that the change is not in the best interests of the child. Minn. Stat. § 259.11(a) (2002). But the supreme court has also indicated that “judicial discretion in ordering a change of a minor’s surname against the objection of one parent should be exercised with great caution and only where the evidence is clear and compelling that the substantial welfare of the child necessitates such change.” Robinson v. Hansel, 302 Minn. 34, 36, 223 N.W.2d 138, 140 (1974).
To determine a child’s best interests, a district court should consider various factors, including: (1) the length of time the child has had the current name; (2) the potential the name change might have to cause harassment or embarrassment; (3) the child’s preference; (4) the effect the name change would have on the child’s relationship with each parent; and (5) the degree of respect the present and proposed names have within the community. In re application of Saxton, 309 N.W.2d 298, 301 (Minn. 1981).
Here, the district court made findings on each of the Saxton factors. Those findings establish that: (1) while the child has had the surname “Queen” for 14 years, she has voluntarily chosen to use the name “Gilman” since she was in third grade, or for approximately five of those years; (2) the potential name change will not cause any harassment or embarrassment; (3) the child is bright and articulate, has not been coerced, and has stated a strong preference to have her surname changed to Gilman; (4) given the already strained relationship between appellant and the child, the name change will have little effect on the relationship, other than to make appellant feel unable to rekindle that relationship; and (5) although there is no evidence of any dramatic difference in the community as it relates to the present or proposed surname, the Gilman name is more common and the child has cousins with that name.
Appellant argues that the only factor that weighed heavily in favor of the name change was the child’s preference. He insists that this factor is insufficient as a matter of law to support granting a name change, “absent some additional finding that her welfare is negatively affected by her present surname.”
In Saxton, 309 N.W.2d at 301, the child’s preference was considered analogous to a child’s custodial preference, which is one of the enumerated best interests factors set out in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1 (2002). Similar to custodial preferences, a child’s preference to change his or her name should be given substantial deference, particularly when the child is of sufficient age and there is no evidence that the child’s preference has been coerced. See, e.g., Ross v. Ross, 477 N.W.2d 753, 756-57 (Minn. App. 1991) (discussing weight to be given older child’s custodial preference); Hoffa v. Hoffa, 382 N.W.2d 522, 525 (Minn. App. 1986) (stating child’s preference was not reasonable because it was “tainted by manipulative conduct”). Cases involving a child’s custody preference have recognized the futility of denying a teenager’s stated preference. See Ross, 477 N.W.2d at 757 (and cases cited therein). And the Minnesota Supreme Court has even acknowledged that “the time may well come when the child may cause an appropriate change of surname as his or her voluntary act.” Saxton, 309 N.W.2d at 302 (quoting Robinson, 302 Minn. at 38, 223 N.W.2d at 141).
Contrary to appellant’s claim on appeal, the record here does show that denial of the name change would adversely affect the child’s best interests. The district court found that the child was bright and articulate, had voluntarily been using the name Gilman since third grade, and had obviously given the name change a great deal of thought. The district court further recognized that the child likely would change her name in a few years regardless and that it made sense to grant the name change now, before the child has obtained a driver’s license and established an employment history for social security purposes. At this point, denying the child’s reasonable request to change her name would be adverse to her best interests. See Ross, 477 N.W.2d at 757 (citing State ex rel. Feely v. Williams, 176 Minn. 193, 196, 222 N.W. 927, 928 (1929) (stating that imposition of custody against 12-year-old child’s wishes likely damages child’s best interests)).
The record further shows that the grant of the name change will not adversely affect the child’s relationship with appellant. The district court rejected appellant’s claim that denial of the name change would enable him to preserve and develop a better relationship with the child. Appellant’s objection to the name change related solely to his feelings and how the name change would affect his attitude and ability to reestablish some type of relationship with the child. While appellant has continued to pay child support, he acknowledged that his relationship with the child is nonexistent and that he has made few attempts in recent years to foster that relationship. Under these circumstances, the district court reasonably concluded that the name by which the child goes should not prevent appellant from attempting to reestablish some type of relationship with the child.
On this record, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the child’s best interests weigh in favor of granting the name change. We therefore affirm the district court’s decision to grant respondent’s application.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.