Jurisdiction to Change a Child's Surname in Ohio: The Value of Strict Construction
Erik L. Smith
Bobo v. Jewell (1988), 38 Ohio St.3d 330, 528 N.E.2d 180.
Upon the child's birth, the unwed mother gave the child her surname, omitting the father's name from the birth certificate. The natural father sought a parentage order in juvenile court, requesting the child's surname be changed to his surname. The court ordered the change of name and ordered amendment of the birth certificate to reflect the name change. Did the juvenile court, as a common pleas court, have jurisdiction to do that?
(1) The juvenile court's jurisdiction, including subject matter jurisdiction, is limited to that dictated by R.C. chapter 2151.1R.C. 2151.07; In re Writ of Habeas Corpus for Baker (1996), 116 Ohio App.3d 580, 582 (10th Dist.).
(2) Applications to change minors' names shall be filed in probate court.2R.C. 2717.01.
(3) When determining parentage, the juvenile court could make any other provision in its order in "the best interest of the child," including ordering a new birth certificate for the child to reflect the judgment.3R.C. 3111.13(B) and (C).
The juvenile court could determine the child's surname after finding the parent-child relationship because R.C. 3111.13 (parentage order statute) let the court make any provision in its order that served "the best interest of the child," including ordering a new birth certificate to reflect the judgment. That denoted legislative recognition that a common pleas court could order the child's name changed. Because establishing parentage profoundly impacted the child's relationship with both parents, and the issue of the child's surname arose from that newly-recognized relationship, the juvenile court could order a child's name changed.4Bobo, at 334.
I believe the court erred. The statutes have remained substantially the same since Bobo.
R.C. 3111.13 still lets the juvenile court make orders in the child's best interest relating to the parentage judgment and order a new birth record to reflect the judgment. But that does not broaden the court's subject matter jurisdiction. A complaint to find a statute unconstitutional under the Declaratory Judgment Act, for example, may be brought in any court of record. But which court of record may hear the complaint depends on the subject matter of the challenged statute.5Malloy v. Westlake (1977), 52 Ohio St.2d 103, 105; State ex rel. Foreman v. Bellefontaine Municipal Court (1967), 12 Ohio St.2d 26, 28.