A trial court erred in finding a mother in contempt for not changing the middle name of her child, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today. The appellate court remanded the case for consideration of whether the name change would be in the best interest of the child.
In Amy M. Swadner v. John W. Swadner II, No. 32A01-0801-CV-1, Amy Swadner appealed several issues following the dissolution of her marriage to John Swadner, including the trial court order for her to change the middle name of their son, E.S.S. to "Wakefield," a family name of the father, and finding her in contempt for failing to do so. A guardian ad litem appointed to the Swadner case issued preliminary recommendations for E.G.S., and E.S.S. E.S.S. was not born at the time of the dissolution. The recommendations included joint legal custody of the children, parenting time, and using Wakefield as E.S.S.'s middle name. John filed a petition for a contempt citation when Amy didn't give E.S.S. the middle name as recommended by the GAL.
The trial court found her in contempt, ordered her to change their son's middle name, and to pay $600 for John's attorney fees. There haven't been previous cases from Indiana addressing disputes of the first or middle name of a child, wrote Judge Paul Mathias, so the court looked to Indiana statute regarding name changes of a minor child and caselaw on petitions to change a child's last name. The appellate court determined that trial courts are required to consider the best interests of the child when deciding a petition to change a first or middle name. There was no finding to show whether the trial court considered the child's best interests when it held Amy in contempt, he wrote. In addition, Amy wasn't bound by the GAL's recommendation concerning the name change, so she can't be found in contempt for failing to change the middle name, Judge Mathias wrote. Even though the parents agreed to adopt the GAL's preliminary recommendations, they reserved the right to argue against any of them at a final hearing.
The Court of Appeals also addressed other issues raised by Amy on appeal: joint custody and parenting time, work-related child-care costs, her petition to relocate, and the division of the marital estate. The appellate court affirmed the adoption of the GAL's parenting time recommendations, the award of joint legal custody, the portion of child care expenses each party had to pay, and the denial of Amy's petition to relocate with the children to Fort Wayne. The trial court failed to consider the total equity in the marital residence and the full amount of John's 401(k) when it divided the marital assets. The Court of Appeals remanded with instructions to either recalculate the parties' marital estate following the statutory presumption of equal division or set forth its rationale for deviating from that presumption.