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Petit v. Adrianzen

Supreme Court of Nevada

April 13, 2017

PAIGE ELIZABETH PETIT, Appellant,
v.
KEVIN DANIEL ADRIANZEN, Respondent.

         Appeal from a decree of divorce regarding the surname of the parties' child. Eighth Judicial District Court, Family Court Division, Clark County; T. Arthur Ritchie, Jr., Judge.

          Law Office of Telia U. Williams and Telia U. Williams, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

          Pecos Law Group and Shann D. Winesett and Bruce I. Shapiro, Henderson, for Respondent.

         BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC [1]

          OPINION

          HARDESTY, J.

         In this appeal we consider, as a matter of first impression, the standard of proof to be applied by district courts in resolving initial naming disputes for a child of married parents. Because neither married parent should have the burden of proof in an initial naming dispute, the focus should be on the best interests of their child. In the matter before us, the district court determined that the child's name should be hyphenated to include both parents' surnames, and in doing so, considered the best interests of the child. We thus affirm.[2]

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Following their marriage, appellant Paige Elizabeth Petit and respondent Kevin Daniel Adrianzen had a child. Before their child's birth, the parties agreed on the child's first and middle names but disagreed on the child's surname. The parties were estranged when their child was born, and Petit gave the child her surname.

         Two months after the birth of their child, Adrianzen filed a complaint for divorce and petitioned to change the child's surname to Adrianzen. The complaint for divorce and petition were consolidated, and an evidentiary hearing was held. After reasoning that it was in the child's best interest to have a surname that allowed the child to identify with both parents, the district court ordered that the child's surname be changed to Petit-Adrianzen. This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         Petit argues that the district court abused its discretion by using an incorrect standard of proof in deciding to change the child's surname. Whether a district court used the proper standard of proof is a legal question we review de novo. Matter of Halverson, 123 Nev. 493, 509, 169 P.3d 1161, 1172 (2007). And we review a district court's findings of a child's best interest for an abuse of discretion. Flynn v. Flynn, 120 Nev. 436, 440, 92 P.3d 1224, 1227 (2004).

         Generally, there are two types of disputes that arise in naming a child. The first type is an initial naming dispute where the child's parents never reached an agreement on the child's surname and seek to have the issue resolved for the first time after the child is born and has been named by one parent without the consent of the other parent, See, e.g., In re A.C.S., 171 P.3d 1148, 1150-51 (Alaska 2007). The second type is a general change-of-name dispute where the parents originally agreed upon a surname for the child, but one parent later seeks to change the child's surname. See, e.g., Acevedo v. Burley, 994 P.2d 389, 390 (Alaska 1999); Schroeder v. Broadfoot, 790 A.2d 773, 781 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2002).

         We previously addressed the general change-of-name dispute in Magiera v. Luera, 106 Nev. 775, 802 P.2d 6 (1990). In that case, a child was born to an unmarried couple, but the father acknowledged his paternity and signed the birth certificate listing the mother's surname as the child's agreed-upon surname. Id. at 776, 802 P.2d at 7. Four years later, during child support proceedings, the father urged the district court to change the child's surname to his surname. Id. The district court ordered the child's surname changed to the father's surname after determining that, since the father was making child support payments, he was entitled to have the child bear his surname. Id. at 777, 802 P.2d at 7. This court reversed the district court's order, holding that the child's best interest is the only relevant factor in deciding the child's surname and that "the burden is on the party seeking the name change to prove, by clear and compelling evidence, that the substantial welfare of the child necessitates a name change." Id.

         Petit argues that this court should apply Magiera's clear and compelling standard of proof in all child-name-change cases. Adrianzen argues that Magiera's clear and compelling standard of proof is inapplicable here because he and Petit were married at the ...


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