V.I. Supreme Court chastises V.I. Superior Court for denying woman the right to change her name

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Supreme Court has ruled that a woman who applied to change her last name to her same-sex partner's was wrongfully denied the right by the V.I. Superior Court.

The Supreme Court ruled in Kristen Reynolds' favor in a court opinion released Tuesday. The Supreme Court ruled that the Superior Court erred specifically by not allowing Reynolds to make any changes to her petition to change her name, ones that easily could have been changed to make the petition complete.

The Superior Court argued that Reynolds did not provide sufficient information, specifically the full name of her partner, or a reason why Reynolds felt the need to change her name.

In her appeal, Reynolds called the Superior Court's actions discriminatory, maintaining that opposite-sex couples do not need to provide reasoning for why they want to have the same last name, the opinion reads.

"Reynolds sought to change her name since it is the 'one legal option available,'" Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Cabret wrote in the high court's opinion.

Cabret noted that Reynolds had held a union ceremony in March with her partner, Dawn Tauer.

Because they are unable to legally marry in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the couple pledged to spend the rest of their lives together during the ceremony, Cabret wrote.

Reynolds argued that a "lifelong commitment to another person is an acceptable reason" for a name change, according to the opinion, and the name change is not contrary to public interest because it "simply reflects the seriousness of the commitment to her life partner."

According to the V.I. Code, in sections 181 and 182 of Title 16, an application for a name change can be accepted or denied only by the Superior Court.

"No lawful change of the name of a person, except a woman upon her marriage or divorce, or upon the adoption of a child, shall be made unless for sufficient reasons not inconsistent with the public interest and satisfactory to the court," the Code reads in section 181.

The next section addresses the notice, order and recording of the name change, for the persons involved, the public and any churches with whom the person is baptized.

"Neither section addresses what information must be included in the petition. Therefore, we cannot say as a matter of law that Reynolds' petition was facially deficient," the opinion states.

Cabret also explained that there are only two primary categories of name changes, ones that require "good and sufficient reason" for the change, and others that allow the change "unless the court determines that there is a good and sufficient reason to deny" it.

According to the Supreme Court, the Superior Court provided no such reason, other than one that could easily be fixed - the offering of her partner's full name - had the court allowed Reynolds the opportunity, which it did not.

"The Superior Court abused its discretion in summarily denying Reynolds's name-change petition," Cabret wrote in the Supreme Court opinion.

The case is remanded back to the Superior Court, which is expected to allow Reynolds to amend her petition by providing her partner's full name, after which she will go by the name of Kristen Tauer. She will not be required to provide a reason for requesting the name-change.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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