Rosalie B. Cooper, J.s.c.
[219 NJSuper Page 335] This action was initiated in the Law Division by N.'s*fn1 mother, as custodial parent, seeking to change the name of her 6 1/2-year-old daughter to that of her husband. With the addition of issues pertaining to child support and visitation, the matter became convoluted and was transferred to the Family Court for resolution. However, as those issues present no
unusual questions for determination, this opinion is confined to the change of name aspect of the case, concerning which there are unique elements.
The stipulated facts indicate that N. was born of unwed teenage parents. All legal documents from the time of her birth to date exhibit her surname as that of her biological father, defendant herein.
While plaintiff has had custody of N. throughout her life, defendant and his family have been a constant presence by way of visitation on a weekly basis and regular child support payments. Plaintiff married her present husband in 1982 and N., along with her baby stepbrother, has continuously lived with them since that time.
Testimony proferred included that of a psychologist, produced as a witness for plaintiff, who has examined N. on five occasions between 1985 and 1986. The last two visits dealt with N.'s perception of herself and her identification with the two families of which she is a member. This court adopts the following findings of the psychologist deeming them to be totally credible.
The psychologist found that, although there was no demonstrated pathology, N. evidenced extreme agitation when confronted by the "name" issue. She perceives herself as bearing the surname of plaintiff's husband and quite definitely identifies herself in that way. Since she has maintained such identification throughout three years of nursery school and now during her first year of grade school, N. has on a number of occasions suffered extreme discomfort in school when her biological name was used. Such negative response to the use of her biological name, as noted by the psychologist, was confirmed by plaintiff.
The psychologist further found that, while N. is aware that defendant is her biological father, she has relegated him to the
position of "make believe" or "weekend father."*fn2 The psychologist has thus designated plaintiff's husband as the "psychological" father. See Mills v. Atlantic City Dept. of Vital Statistics, 148 N.J. Super. 302, 308, n. 1 (Ch.Div.1977).
The level of understanding regarding her lineage is obviously inhibited by her age and lack of sophistication. It was conceded by the psychologist that N. should continue to be made aware of the true facts concerning her biological background so that she will be in a better position to understand that background at some time in the future.
This court finds that the society in which we live today is purportedly neither maternal nor paternal. The principle of gender neutrality is evident in the laws as administered by the courts of New Jersey and throughout the legal system; great efforts have been generated to further this concept.
In that regard, while not being bound by the decisions of courts of comparable jurisdiction, this court adopts the rationale and logic enunciated in the case of Application of Rossell by Yacono, 196 N.J. ...