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In re Degrace

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, Sussex

June 20, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: MCKENZEY MAE DEGRACE, Petitioner, TO MCKENZEY MAE DEGRACE-WARD

          Submitted: May 8, 2018

         Petitioner's Date of Birth: September 29, 2015

          Cortney Ward, Pro Se, Mother of Petitioner McKenzey Mae DeGrace.

          Sean M. Lynn, Esq., Attorney for Respondent Joseph A. DeGrace.

          DECISION ON PETITION FOR NAME CHANGE

          KENNETH S. CLARK, JR., JUDGE

         On May 8, 2018, the Court held a contested hearing on a Petition to change the minor child McKenzey Mae DeGrace's surname to DeGrace-Ward. At the close of the hearing, the Court reserved decision.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 23, 2018, Petitioner McKenzey Mae DeGrace filed this Petition through her natural mother, Cortney Ward, seeking to add Cortney's surname to McKenzey's surname with a hyphen. Notice of the Petition was published in a local periodical and served upon McKenzey's father in accordance with applicable statutes and Court Rules.

         McKenzey's natural father, Joseph A. DeGrace, opposes the Petition. The Court heard the following testimony from the parents.

         Cortney and Joseph were married January 10, 2014. Prior to the marriage, Cortney's surname was Ward, and during the marriage, Cortney's surname was DeGrace. At all times, Joseph's surname has been DeGrace. McKenzey Mae, Cortney and Joseph's only child, was born during the marriage on September 29, 2015, and given the same surname used by both parents at the time. Cortney and Joseph separated on April 8, 2017, and were divorced on November 22, 2017. Cortney resumed her surname of Ward.

         Cortney and Joseph lived together with McKenzey from her birth until their separation, when Cortney and McKenzey moved to Milton, Delaware to live with Cortney's parents, Carl and Cathy Ward. Cortney and McKenzey still reside at that address. Cortney testified that McKenzey has a positive relationship with Carl and Cathy and her extended maternal family.

         As of the date of the hearing, custody and placement of McKenzey is governed by an interim custody order entered by Family Court. A final custody hearing is scheduled for July 2018. Under the interim order, Cortney has primary placement of McKenzey, and Joseph has visitation with McKenzey every other weekend from Friday evening until Monday morning, one overnight in the middle of the week, and a dinner visit in the middle of the week. Joseph faithfully sees McKenzey at the appointed times.

         The points of dispute at the hearing primarily concerned two topics: (1) Cortney's objections to McKenzey being left alone with certain members of Joseph's family; and (2) an incident at the pharmacy where McKenzey's prescription came to be logged under the surname DeGrace-Ward.

         In short, Cortney testified that she objects to McKenzey being left alone with certain members of Joseph's family. Cortney testified to various behaviors she has observed in Joseph's family and the reasons why she believes it would be in McKenzey's best interest that contact with certain members only occur in a supervised setting or public place. No evidence was presented that any member of Joseph's family has ever been convicted of any crime or investigated for any misconduct towards children, and Cortney testified that she is not aware of any such evidence.

         Joseph testified that Cortney's allegations concerning his family members are untrue and her characterization of his family as dysfunctional is unfounded.

         Cortney and Joseph's testimony regarding the incident at the pharmacy is similarly at odds. Joseph testified that he presented himself at Walgreens on a Friday evening to check on a prescription for McKenzey and, at that time, the prescription was under the name McKenzey Mae DeGrace. Joseph further testified that on Saturday morning Cortney expressed her displeasure with Joseph attempting to fill McKenzey's prescription without her knowledge to him via text message. When Joseph returned to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription on Monday, Walgreens was initially unable to locate the prescription because the prescription was filled under the name McKenzey Mae DeGrace-Ward.

         Cortney testified that the pharmacy changed McKenzey's name in its system from DeGrace to DeGrace-Ward due to an issue with processing the prescription through Cortney's insurance. Joseph questioned the likelihood that the pharmacy would take such an action on its own, implying that Cortney requested that McKenzey's surname be changed in order to interfere with Joseph's attempt to fill the prescription. Cortney denied any involvement in the decision to change McKenzey's surname from DeGrace to DeGrace-Ward in the pharmacy's system.

         With regard to what effect changing McKenzey's surname to DeGrace-Ward will have on McKenzey's relationship with her family, Cortney expressed her desire to share her last name with McKenzey and testified that the change would help identify McKenzey ...


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