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In re A.L.J.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

November 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.L.J., A CHILD

          Date Submitted: October 25, 2019

          On Appeal from the 307th District Court Gregg County, Texas Trial Court No. 2018-1808-DR

          Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Ralph K. Burgess Justice.

         This is an appeal from a final judgment in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. In Mother's sole point of error on appeal, she contends that the trial court erred when it granted Father's request to change the last name of their child, A.L.J., to Father's surname.[1] We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the name change because its finding that the name change was in A.L.J.'s best interest was supported by legally and factually sufficient evidence. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Background

         A.L.J. was born in December 2017 and lives with his mother, Mary, in Longview.[2] Mary agreed that A.L.J.'s father, Andrew, had been a part of A.L.J.'s life since his birth and that he financially assisted with A.L.J.'s living expenses. Mary conceded that Andrew's family was significantly involved in A.L.J.'s life. Mary stated, "Whenever I need help I can call them." Andrew's family helped Mary with childcare, assisted her financially, and helped her secure housing. Mary said that A.L.J. had never resided outside of the State of Texas. When asked how many times Mary's family had seen A.L.J., she stated, "This would be my dad's fifth time driving here. We went there to Virginia. My mom was here when he was born, came another time, and she's planning on coming in the summer, as well."[3]

         Mary agreed that A.L.J. had far more interaction with Andrew's family than he did with her family. Mary said she was opposed to the name change because she was not married to Andrew, but was, instead, "a single mother." Mary did not oppose Andrew's surname, nor did she believe Andrew's family name had a bad reputation in the community. Mary said that she hoped to get married someday, but she assured the court that she would retain her surname in the event she did. She stated, "I was married before, and I like my surname." Mary agreed that A.L.J. was too young to know his name.

         Mary explained that A.L.J.'s first name was taken from Mary's brother's name, and his middle name was taken from Andrew's name. Mary initially said that when she decided on A.L.J.'s name, Andrew was "[p]retty much" in agreement with it. She subsequently stated, however, that Andrew objected to A.L.J.'s first name and to the fact that A.L.J. was not given Andrew's surname. Regardless, Andrew signed off on the acknowledgement of paternity, which showed that A.L.J. had been given Mary's surname.

         Mary testified that although her surname was her adoptive family's name, it was important for A.L.J. to have her surname because he was her only known blood relative. She continued, "[I]t can help him have -- like be able to be connected to two different and three different pieces of himself and his history." Mary did not believe it would be detrimental for A.L.J. to have a different surname than his father's, and she did not believe that when A.L.J. became school age, that having her surname instead of Andrew's would cause him any anxiety.

         Mary's grandfather, Steve, traveled from Virginia to Texas to testify at the hearing. Steve explained that Mary had been adopted when she was three years old, and that they did not know much about her family background. According to Steve, Mary had never had any contact with her biological family members. Referring to A.L.J., Steve said, "He's very well cared for here, he's surrounded by love. And we greatly appreciate that because we're not here on a daily basis." He continued, "When -- [Mary] and [A.L.J.] visited us over Thanksgiving, we had 25 family members together the day after Thanksgiving. He was surrounded by love there, too." Steve explained that A.L.J. was Mary's sole blood relative, and in his opinion, it would be good for A.L.J. to retain Mary's surname.

         Andrew testified that he met Mary on a dating website, after which Mary traveled to Longview to meet Andrew. They were both living in Longview when A.L.J. was born. Andrew stated that he had extended family living in East Texas, including his mother and father, and that they were both involved in A.L.J.'s life. According to Andrew, his parents had also been involved in Mary's life. Andrew stated that his parents helped her financially on numerous occasions, helped out with childcare, and took A.L.J. to see the doctor. In addition, Andrew said that his parents treated Mary like she was their daughter and that all of the parties involved got "along really good." Andrew testified that he had been a part of A.L.J's life since he was born, had financially supported A.L.J., had provided him with medical insurance, and had exercised his periods of possession. Andrew stated that he was currently employed by a company located in Kilgore and that he had no plans to leave East Texas.

         Andrew explained that he believed it would be helpful for A.L.J. to have his surname to avoid confusion at places such as the doctor's office. Andrew also explained that he hoped A.L.J. would become involved in sports when he became older and that he would prefer A.L.J. to be identified by his surname. In Andrew's opinion, he believed that there would be a stronger father-son bond if A.L.J. had his surname. Andrew agreed with Mary that A.L.J. did not know his name due to his age. Andrew stated that he had the same surname as his parents and that he would "[n]ever" change it.

         According to Andrew, Mary did not give him a choice when it came to naming A.L.J. Andrew said he did not have an issue with Mary's choice of A.L.J.'s first and middle names. When asked why he did not object to using Mary's surname when A.L.J. was born, Andrew explained, "I did, but from what I understood, I really didn't have an option whenever I was signing the birth certificate, because the way I [sic] was described is that it's harder to get your name onto a birth certificate than it is to take your name off a birth certificate." He continued, "So I just went ahead and signed whenever I was at the hospital on the acknowledgement of paternity." In other words, Andrew believed he did not have a choice.

         According to Andrew, he did not know any children that did not have their father's surname. He conceded, however, that those children were all products of married couples. Andrew said that he believed it would cause A.L.J. trouble when he became school age if he did not have Andrew's last name. He agreed, ...


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