Transgender Child’s Name Change; Williamson County Circuit Court Reversed

 

In Re Leyna A., (Tenn.Ct.App. at Nashville, filed September 15, 2017); Appeal from Williamson County Circuit Court

 

Trial Court:   This action was initiated on May 16, 2016, with the filing of a Petition for Name Change by both parents of the minor child. The parents (“Petitioners”) did not seek to change their child’s surname, only the child’s first and middle names.  The minor child, sixteen years old, is transgender and was undergoing medical transition via hormone therapy from female to male. The petitioners alleged that continued use of her feminine name caused the child anxiety and embarrassment.   The petition, which was signed by both parents, provided all of the information required by the controlling statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-8-102.  Three days later, the trial court denied the petition without a hearing pursuant to a Memorandum and Order entered on May 19, 2016.

The trial court order stated:
This matter is before the Court on the Petition for Name Change filed by Petitioners, Lynda and Mark [A.] (“Petitioners”) on behalf of their daughter, Leyna Jayne [A.] (“Daughter”). The Petition fails to state a valid reason for the name change, especially in light of the fact that Petitioners seek to change someone else’s name. When Daughter is of the age of majority, she can Petition the Court on her own. Accordingly, the Petition for Name Change is hereby denied.

Immediately thereafter, the parents filed a motion to alter or amend and an amended motion to alter or amend that was supported by written statements from both parents, the child, and the child’s treating physician, therapist, and teacher.

In response to the motion, the trial court entered an order setting the Petition for Name Change for a hearing on September 1, 2016. When the petition came on for an evidentiary hearing, counsel for Petitioners presented three witnesses, both parents and the child, each of whom stated unequivocally that the requested name change was in the child’s best interest. Additionally, the written statements from the child’s treating physician, therapist, and teacher were admitted into evidence. Following the hearing, the trial court entered an order denying the motion to alter or amend the judgment and denying the petition for a name change, finding Petitioners failed to establish that the requested name change was in the child’s best interest. 

Court of Appeals:  On appeal, Judge Clement wrote:

All of the evidence unequivocally reveals that it is in the child’s best interest to change the child’s name, and the record contains no evidence that is inconsistent with or contradictory to the above. Thus, the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding that the petitioners failed to show that changing the child’s name was in his best
interest. Having determined that the evidence preponderates in favor of the finding that it is in the child’s best interest to change his name, we now consider the facts in the context of the law that applies to petitions for name changes.

As previously stated, the procedure in Tennessee for obtaining a name change is set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-8-102. The statute merely requires the applicant to file
a “petition, in writing, signed by the applicant and verified by affidavit, stating that the applicant is a resident of the county, and giving the applicant’s reasons for desiring the
change or correction.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-8-102.

The only statute that restricts a name change is Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-8-101, and none of the statutory restrictions are applicable in this case. The restrictions are based on
a certain category of criminal offenses, principally sexual offenses, and where the court finds “the petition is being made to defraud or mislead, is not being made in good faith,
will cause injury to an individual or to compromise public safety.” Tenn. Code Ann. §29-8-1012(b)(1)-(2). Therefore, none of the restrictions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-8-
1012(b)(1)-(2) apply.

As noted earlier, the right to change one’s name applies to minors in the same way it applies to adults, and our courts have held that Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-8-101
to -102 include minors and adults. See In re Lackey, 1991 WL 45394, at *1. Thus, minors, acting by and through their parents, can seek a name change in the same manner
as adults under the general name change statutes. Id. “Decisions regarding changing a minor’s name should be guided by the child’s best interests.” Id. at *2 (citing Halloran,
778 S.W.2d at 456; 57 Am. Jur. 2d Name § 45 (1988)). Moreover, “absent any fraudulent or legally impermissible intent, the State has no legitimate concern,” in a petition to
change a person’s name. Palermo, 522 S.W.2d at 689.

Petitioners filed the requisite petition, and they provided the facts required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-8-102. Petitioners presented three witnesses and the statements of three professionals, all of which stated unequivocally that the requested name change is in the child’s best interest. The child has committed no crimes, and there is no evidence of intent to defraud or mislead, of not acting in good faith, or of the possibility of injury to an individual, or of a compromise to the public’s safety if the petition is granted. Therefore, Petitioners have established a factual basis for granting the petition, and no legal basis exists upon which to deny the petition.

 

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