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Velasquez v. Chavez

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 15, 2019

Dario Arthur Velasquez, Appellant,
v.
Stacy L. Chavez, Appellee.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Matthew Bates The Honorable Patrick Corum No. 154901302

          Marsha M. Lang, Attorney for Appellant

          Michael P. Studebaker, Attorney for Appellee

          Judge Diana Hagen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and David N. Mortensen concurred.

          HAGEN, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Dario Arthur Velasquez appeals the district court's decision to hyphenate the surname of his biological son (the child). Velasquez argues that the court did not address the six-factor test articulated in Hamby v. Jacobson, 769 P.2d 273 (Utah Ct. App. 1989), for determining whether changing the child's surname from Chavez to Velasquez-Chavez was in the child's best interest. Because we conclude the district court properly considered all the relevant factors and provided sufficient findings to support its decision, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Velasquez and Stacy L. Chavez were in a relationship and living together when Chavez became pregnant with their child. A few months into the pregnancy, Chavez ended the relationship and moved in with a former boyfriend who was the father of her daughter.

         ¶3 When Chavez gave birth to the child, she left the birth certificate blank as to the child's father and gave the child the surname "Chavez." A few weeks after the birth, Velasquez filed a Verified Petition for Decree of Paternity (the petition). Relevant to this appeal, Velasquez petitioned the court to change the child's surname to "Velasquez."

         ¶4 At the trial on the petition, the parties were present and stipulated to proffers of testimony before the court. Velasquez's attorney argued that the child's surname should be "Velasquez" because Velasquez believes that the child is confused as to who his "real father" is because he calls both Velasquez and Chavez's significant other "daddy." Velasquez's attorney argued that the child will be stigmatized and embarrassed to have his mother's surname because children at school "are very cruel" and will conclude he is "illegitimate." His attorney anticipated that a hyphenated surname might be an option and expressed concerns that the name "Velasquez will be dropped off" if the child's surname was changed to "Chavez-Velasquez." There was also concern that the child would just go by "Chavez" if the last name was changed to "Velasquez-Chavez." But Velasquez did not "have any objection to Chavez being a middle name." Velasquez's attorney argued that "for inheritance purposes, for the idea of carrying on the last name of Velasquez, for the heritage of his family, [the child] should have [Velasquez's] last name." At this point, the district court asked Velasquez directly, "[S]hare with me your heritage, where does your family come from?" Velasquez responded that he and his mother are from Texas and that his father was born in Mexico but has spent most of his life in Texas.

         ¶5 In response, Chavez's attorney argued that Velasquez's arguments with respect to the child's confusion, embarrassment, and "stigmas in schools" were based on "a lot of speculation" without any support. Chavez disagreed that the child would suffer embarrassment or lack of identity without his father's surname. Chavez's attorney proffered that the child shared Velasquez's middle name and that Chavez was "not opposed to the offer of the child's last name being Velasquez-dash-Chavez." Chavez's attorney further explained that he had "spent a lot of time researching and trying to find any sociological or psychological literature" to make sure the child was not harmed by a hyphenated surname. The court asked Chavez where her family came from, and she responded that her family was from Colorado and that she lived in Utah. The court commented that "it is common in certain Latin cultures for a person's last name to be the father's last name hyphenated with the mother's last name" and then asked if either family followed that tradition. Velasquez and Chavez each responded, "No."

         ¶6 Following the proffered testimony, the district court gave its oral ruling, following the six-factor test articulated in Hamby v. Jacobson, 769 P.2d 273 (Utah Ct. App. 1989), for determining whether changing the child's surname is in the child's best interest. The court concluded that it was in the child's best interest to have the surname Velasquez-Chavez to "make sure that the child understands that he has two parents that don't live together but they're both his parents." The court also explained that "although this isn't common in the heritage of the two families here, it is . . . very common in the heritage of many Latin and Hispanic families, in Utah and outside of Utah . . . [and] it's very common in . . . other cultures in this community."

         ¶7 Velasquez objected to the hyphenated last name. He personally addressed the court, arguing that it had erroneously based its decision on "Latin countries and stuff," despite the fact that he and Chavez were both born in the United States and "the ways here in America is [to use] one last name." The court clarified that it "mentioned that particular cultural tradition only to demonstrate that [it] found little basis to find that a hyphenated name is going to cause the child any embarrassment simply because that is so prevalent in our community today, regardless of where it comes from."

         ¶8 Following the trial, the court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law and ordered that the child's surname be ...


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