Dear Annie: I have two daughters who have their biological father's last name. He never phones or visits. In six years, he has seen them once for an hour.
I would like to change their last name to my maiden name. I have full physical and legal custody of my girls. My ex has supervised visitation that he hasn't taken advantage of. I married a wonderful man seven years ago, and he is truly their father.
I have no idea where their biological father lives. I've asked his sister, and she, too, has no clue. He has been in and out of jail on drug charges, and seeing as he isn't paying child support or showing any interest in the girls, I don't feel they should have to use his last name.
How do I go about changing their names with the least amount of trouble? I can't afford a lawyer. My girls are 8 and 9 years old, and I'd like to get this done.
- L.A., Calif.
Dear L.A.: Contact your state or county courthouse and find out what forms are necessary to request a name change for minor children, and follow whatever additional instructions are required. (Should your ex reappear and contest this at a later date, you may need to contact a lawyer.)
Before taking this step, however, consider how your girls will feel down the road. They may be perfectly content to be totally disconnected from their biological father, but we caution you not to make your animosity toward him part of the package. When they are older, please allow them to have their background information should they request it.
Dear Annie: When it comes to relationships, whether family or friends, I've always had to be the one to pursue communication with them. They rarely call to say hello or ask how things are going.
I recently moved from Tennessee to Indiana and feel like I'm by myself. I have few friends here. What would you suggest I do?
- Lonely Hoosier
Dear Hoosier: It takes time to make friends in a new location. We recommend you get involved in local activities through your church, community centers, gyms, volunteer organizations, etc., as well as groups that hold interest for you, such as choirs, theater troupes, political organizations, book clubs and so on, which you can find online or through meetup.com.
Some people, like you, are better at maintaining communication than others. But you also could ask some close friends or family members why they so rarely call. Sometimes there are problems that can be easily remedied.
Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar.