Submitted: January 2, 2019
an Appeal from the Decision of the Kent County Court of
Common Pleas Reversed and Remanded.
M. Lynn, Esquire of The Law Offices of Sean M. Lynn, P. A.,
Dover, Delaware; attorney for Appellant.
Tiffany M. Shrenk, Esquire of MacElree Harvey, Ltd.,
Centreville, Delaware; attorney for Appellee.
WILLIAM L. WITHAM. JR. RESIDENT JUDGE.
the Court is Appellant Brittany Haas' (hereinafter
"Appellant") appeal of the Kent County Court of Common
Pleas' (hereinafter "Court of Common Pleas" or
"court") denial of her petition to change her
son's surname by hyphenating it with her new married
reasons that follow, the Court of Common Pleas erred as a
matter of law in denying the Appellant's petition to
hyphenate her son's surname to the mom's previously
existing surname because it analyzed the petition under the
combined standards of "best interest of the child"
and Section 5904(b), Title 10 of the Delaware Code, rather
than section 5904(b) solely, as our Legislature has intended.
As a consequence, this Court REVERSES and
REMANDS this case to the Court of Common Pleas,
where it shall apply the correct standard pursuant to section
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
March 22, 2018, the Appellant filed a petition in the Court
of Common Pleas seeking to hyphenate her son, Channing's,
given surname "Wilson," with her new married
surname "Haas." The Appellant complied with all
applicable statutory and court rules.
Stanley Wilson, Channing's natural father, however,
opposed the Petition.
the hearing held in the Court of Common Pleas, the court
heard testimony from the Appellant, Appellee, and
Channing's stepmother, Megan Mullen. From that testimony,
the Court discerns the following.
Channing's parents were married in January 2010. During
their five plus year marriage, the Appellant chose to keep
her maiden surname Mills and at all times during the
marriage, the Appellee's surname has been Wilson.
Channing, the Appellant and Appellee's only child, was
born during the marriage on August 21, 2012, and was given
the same surname as his father.
Appellant and Appellee separated in 2013 and divorced in
Appellant remarried and continued to use her surname of Mills
until approximately a year and a half into her second
marriage, when she changed her surname to her husband's
date, the Appellant has never had the same surname as
Custody and placement of Channing is governed by a custody
order entered by the Delaware Family Court. Under the order,
the Appellant has primary placement of Channing, and the
Appellee has visitation with him every other weekend, three
weeks over the summer, and alternating holidays. The
Appellee, has maintained his visitation with Channing except
when deployed or at required military training.
the hearing, the Appellant testified as to the reasons why
she wanted to hyphenate Channing's surname to
Wilson-Haas. First, the Appellant contended that the change
would benefit Channing by helping him better fit into the
Haas family. As a byproduct, the Appellant stated her belief
that the name change would bring Channing closer to both the
Wilson and Haas families, despite the fact that Channing will
still have a different surname then the rest of the Haas
family. The Appellant further asserted that Charming's
surname as presently constituted presented problems with
scheduling Channing's medical appointments and negatively
impacted her interactions with doctors because she was asked
multiple times, over a five year period, what her
relationship was to Channing.
crux of the Appellee's testimony was his belief
that Channing is confused by the proposed name change
and does not understand what his name is or means. The
Appellee testified that he currently does not have sufficient
visitation to counteract the Appellant's and her
husband's attempts to disrupt his relationship with
Channing and that the Appellant has blocked
virtually all his attempts to seek an alteration of the
visitation schedule by placing conditions that the Appellee
must agree. The Appellee further testified that
Channing has referred to him as "Stanley," instead
of "Daddy," which he believed was directly
encouraged by both the Appellant and her husband and was
causing his relationship with Channing to
Mullen, the wife of the Appellee, echoed the Appellee's
testimony regarding the Appellant and her husband's
attempts to damage the Appellee and Channing's
relationship, but provided some evidence to back her belief.
She specifically stated that Charming started addressing the
Appellee as "Stanley," after Appellant's
relocation petition had been denied. She also testified
regarding specific examples of Channing's confusion
regarding his present name and stated that Channing had never
confused his name until the Appellant's most recent
petition. She further testified that since the petition was
filed, Channing has directly stated to her that his
"mommy got [him] a brand new name" that was
Court of Common Pleas issued a bench order directly after the
hearing testimony and denied the Appellant's petition. In
denying the petition, the court analyzed the evidence based
on the ten factors that followed the "best interest of
the child" legal standard.
April 20, 2018, nine days after the court's verbal order,
the court issued an Amended Order. In the Amended Order, the
court recognized the "[c]ourt did not fully address the
recent addition of  Del. C. § 5409, which
includes a separate provision for cases where a petition
requests a hyphenation of a child's
Accordingly, the court, in its Amended Order, reconsidered
the section 5409(b) factors, but instead of an analysis based
on those four factors alone, the court held that "[the
Appellee], has in addition to showing that granting the
petition is not in the child's best interest, has
shown by clear and convincing evidence, that the totality of
the four factors demonstrated that granting the name change
petition would cause the minor child more harm than
benefit." As a result, the court again denied the
Appellant's petition to hyphenate Channing's surname.
Appellant filed a Notice of Appeal in this Court on April 23,
2018, appealing the Court of Common ...