No. 33064 In Re: The Petition of Blake A. Carter, a minor, by Christina M. Karawan for
Change of Name to Blake A. Karawan
Benjamin, Justice, dissenting:
The circuit court focused squarely on the bests interests of the child. It
followed the law. It did not abuse its discretion. It did not commit clear error in its findings
of fact. Accordingly, I dissent from the majority opinion.
This case is fact-driven. Judge Zakaib, below, saw the facts very clearly.
Young Blake wished to be legally recognized as Blake Karawan after he was essentially
abandoned by his biological father, who had made no real attempt to be a part of Blake's life
for more than thirteen-and-a-half years. Only when he faced the prospect, and I presume the
personal embarrassment, of his own son seeking to change his name to that of his step-father
did Mr. Carter rediscover his desire to have a fatherly relationship with Blake. Judge Zakaib
did not believe that Mr. Carter's lately-formed sincerity was genuine and I do not believe
Judge Zakaib was clearly wrong in that determination.
The majority concludes that a name change is not in Blake's best interests
[b]ecause Mr. Carter has regularly paid child support and has expressed his sincere desire
to forge a relationship with his biological son
. . . . Majority opinion at 9. (Emphasis
added.) The record simply does not support Mr. Carter's claimed sincerity. All of the facts
were taken by the circuit court and appropriate findings of fact were made. The circuit court
found the facts to favor Blake's name change as being in his best interests. In ruling against
Blake, the majority supplants the circuit court's findings with factual conclusions more to its
liking and simply ignores the clearly erroneous standard which should control our review of
this appeal. Syl. Pt. 2, Walker v. West Virginia Ethics Commission
, 201 W. Va. 108, 492
S.E.2d 167 (1997).
A review of the type of father Mr. Carter has actually been, rather than what
he now claims he wants to be, is illuminating. In the now sixteen years since his son was
born, Mr. Carter has never made any real attempt to get to know his son, to nurture his son,
to care for his son, or to otherwise be a parent to his son. He has done nothing for Blake
other than that which he had to do to avoid criminal sanction: he paid court-ordered child
support in a minimal amount.
Mr. Carter took no steps to exercise his rights as a parent. He never petitioned
to modify the custody order or to exercise his visitation rights. While he was absent from
Blake's life, Blake's mother and step-father put a roof over Blake's head, fed Blake, clothed
Blake, provided medical care for Blake, nurtured Blake, saw to Blake's education, and raised
Blake to be the intelligent and articulate young man that he is today.
Mr. Carter apparently hopes that by forcing his son to retain the name Carter,
it will somehow now allow Mr. Carter to foster a relationship with Blake. He apparently
expects that Blake will be curious about his natural father and will seek out a relationship
with him as a teenager. Unfortunately, Blake has made it clear to the circuit court what his
wishes were. With the confidence and self-assurance of any adult, he articulated to the court
that, while he understood and acknowledged that Mr. Carter is his biological father, Mr.
Carter has never been a parent to him. Blake explained that he has always looked upon Mr.
Karawan as his father and that he longed to be known by the same legal name as his mother,
sister, and step-father.
To my mind, the record amply demonstrates that the factual findings of the
circuit court were not clearly wrong nor were the conclusions the court drew from those facts
wrong. While I acknowledge the standard expressed in Harris
, I cannot agree that Mr. Carter
has ever exercised his parental rights and responsibilities in the spirit of Harris
. He chose
to abandon any right he had to visit with and develop a parental bond with his son over the
course of thirteen-and-one-half years. The only parental responsibility he exercised was that
which he was legally required to do to avoid criminal sanctions. Being a father requires
more. Blake's best interests deserve more.
As the circuit court amply found, Blake's best interests deserve more than the
empty promises of his biological father. The circuit court correctly based its focus on the
child's best interests _ as should we. Unfortunately, the majority opinion, with its emphasis
on Mr. Carter's sincerity and Mr. Carter's wishes, instead looks to Mr. Carter's best
interests in deciding this case. In all other aspects, this Court has held the best interests of
the child to be paramount. Syl. Pt. 1, Petition of Nearhoof, 178 W. Va. 359, 359 S.E.2d 587
(1987) (A trial court, in considering a petition of a grandparent for visitation rights with a
grandchild or grandchildren pursuant to W. Va. Code, § 48-2-15(b)(1)  or W. Va.
Code § 48-2B-1 , shall give paramount consideration to the best interests of the
grandchild or grandchildren involved.); Syl. Pt. 5, Carter v. Carter, 196 W. Va. 239, 470
S.E.2d 193 (1996) (In visitation as well as custody matters, we have traditionally held
paramount the best interests of the child.); Syl. Pt. 3, In re Katie S., 198 W. Va. 79, 479
S.E.2d 589 (1996) (Although parents have substantial rights that must be protected, the
primary goal in cases involving abuse and neglect, as in all family law matters, must be the
health and welfare of the children.); In re Elizabeth A., 217 W. Va. 197, 203, 617 S.E.2d
547, 553 (2005)(Any evaluation pertaining to the rights of children must be guided by this
Court's consistent recognition that a child's rights are paramount.). Accordingly, I
respectfully dissent from the majority opinion.