The new name law as of January 1, 2013
Dominique BOYER, notary in Geneva
The legislative reform aiming at equality between men and women in matters of name came into force on January 1, 2013.
The main novelties concerning the right to a name reside in the modifications affecting the choice of the spouses as to their name(s) during the marriage and the possibilities of choice as to that of their child(ren).
To each his own name… in principle
From now on, the rule is that each spouse keeps his or her unmarried name, and the exception is to ask the registrar to use a common surname.
For marriages celebrated since January 1, 2013, the new law no longer allows the wife to bear a double name (i.e. the maiden name preceding the family name, in this case the husband’s name). However, persons married before that date who had chosen to bear the double name may keep it.
It is not forbidden – but simply not official – to use the names of both spouses, hyphenated, in everyday life.
The name of the children and its modification
As far as the children are concerned, they acquire either the common surname chosen by their parents, or, if the parents have different surnames, the surname of one of the parents as they chose it already at the time of their marriage. It should be noted, however, that if the child is at least twelve years old at the time of the parents’ marriage, it is not possible to change his or her surname without the child’s consent.
If the parents are not married, the child generally acquires the unmarried name of his or her mother, as was the case until December 31, 2012. However, if both parents exercise parental authority, they have the possibility to make a joint declaration within one year of the attribution of this joint parental authority so that the child will bear the surname of his father.
Unmarried parents who had joint parental authority when the new law came into force on January 1, 2010, have the possibility, within one year, i.e. by December 31, 2013, to jointly declare that their child will bear the surname of the father. This is subject to the consent of the child if he or she is at least twelve years old.
Subsequent change of name
A spouse who changed his or her name at the time of the conclusion of his or her marriage celebrated before January 1, 2013, may at any time declare to the civil registrar that he or she wishes to resume his or her unmarried name. As a result, there is no longer a common surname. In this case, it is possible – but not obligatory – to also change the surname of a child from the former common surname of the parents to the surname of the parent who has taken back his or her single name. This is done by means of an ad hoc declaration to the registrar within one year from the entry into force of the amendment to the law, i.e. until 31 December 2013. Again, such a declaration must be based on the consent of the child himself or herself if he or she has reached the age of twelve.
Upon the death of one of the spouses, the law allows the surviving spouse to take back his or her unmarried name at any time, if the couple had chosen the name of the deceased as the common surname.
After the divorce, the spouse who changed his or her name at the time of the marriage may declare at any time to the registrar that he or she wishes to resume his or her single name.
The name of registered partners
Registered partners now also have the option of choosing a common surname. This can be the unmarried name of either partner.
As for the persons whose partnership was registered before January 1, 2013, following the rule prevailing for married persons, they may declare that they wish to choose as a common surname the unmarried name of one or the other of the partners, within a period of one year from the entry into force of the amendment of the law, i.e. until December 31, 2013.