Singapore—On Wednesday, December 18, the High Court dismissed the appeal one woman made for her daughter’s name and race to be legally changed, amidst a skirmish between her and the child’s guardian.
The High Court determined that the parent’s authority is not higher in rank than that of a guardian in matters pertaining to a child who is under guardianship, including alterations to a child’s name and race.
The Straits Times (ST) reports that the names and races of all of the participants in the case have not been stated in the court documents.
The child in the middle of the dispute, who is now 11, was left by her mother in 2009 to be cared for by her guardian and other people. Her guardian is her mother’s step-aunt, and was appointed to be the child’s legal guardian since July 2011.
The mother married another man in 2013, after which she had two more children.
By December 2017, the parties entered a mediated agreement which decreed that the mother and the guardian have joint guardianship over the young girl.
The mother shares the same name and race as the guardian, who is her step-aunt and the sister of her stepfather. When the child was born, she too was registered as having the same name and race as her mother and guardian.
However, two years ago, in August 2017, the mother changed her surname to that of her mother, the young girl’s biological grandmother. That was when she also changed the racial group on her identity documents to match that of her biological mother, she also changed the name and race of her daughter on her papers, as she wanted to create strong ties with her daughter once more, since they had been apart for years.
But after this, the guardian began legal filings to reverse the alterations made to the girl’s name and race.
By October 2018, it was ordered by the Family Court that the changes the mother applied for would be set aside, a decision that the mother appealed against.
On Wednesday, Judicial Commissioner Tan Puay Boon said that in matters wherein there is a need to resolve legal tussles related to children, the wellbeing of the child is of utmost importance.
He also denied the mother’s argument that in these kinds of disputes, a parent’s authority supersedes the authority of the guardian.
He said that in certain situations the court appoints guardians when the ability of parents to care for their children is doubtful, thus “breaking down” the mother’s argument that parental authority is superior.
Mr Tan added that in this particular situation, he found no restriction on the guardian’s authority over the daughter, and so that guardian was merely exercising “the authority that the parent naturally possesses over the child”.
Furthermore, he also concurred with the trial judge who had determined that the changes to the daughter’s race and name had not been in the young girl’s best interests and that the mother had only been marginally involved in the child’s life thus far and it did not seem likely that she would be able to assume responsibility for her, as she and her family are now on welfare assistance and need financial help for their daily needs.
While he acknowledged the significance of strengthening the mother-daughter bond, he did not agree that this would happen with the change in the daughter’s name and race, as it would compel the child to turn away from the heritage that she has known all her life.
Mr Tan suggested ways in which the bond can be strengthened between mother and daughter that do not compel the daughter to abandon her heritage, including a new surname that would combine her old and new surnames.
But the Judicial Commissioner added that the judgment he gave applied to the legal framework of this particular dispute, and should not be taken as prescriptive of “what the hierarchy of the relationships between parents, guardians and even non-guardians and a child should be”. -/TISG
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