It's taken more than two years for the Oregon court of Appeals to decide the name of a Heppner child. But this morning neither parent knew the case had been decided.
Christy M. Wizner and Chad M. Doherty of Heppner had a baby on April 8, 2004. The couple was not married, and Wizner said they weren't involved when the baby was born.
Wizner, 30, decided her daughter should have the same last name as her three other children. Doherty, 31, wanted the girl to have his surname, arguing "Wizner" is not ancestral, but rather the name of the mother's former spouse.
The parents each got lawyers.
The issues that usually are the most contentious - child support, custody and visitation - were resolved quickly. But Wizner and Doherty still couldn't agree on their daughter's last name. So the judge held a hearing in November 2004.
Morrow County Circuit Judge Jeffrey M. Wallace said the standard for settling such a dispute was unclear, but decided to follow the custom of naming the child after a biological parent of the child and sided with Doherty.
Wizner appealed, and more than two years later the Oregon Court of Appeals issued its opinion Wednesday in favor of Wizner. But not before a quick review of nearly 1,000 years of naming customs.
Judge Pro Tempore Daniel L. Harris wrote that in married couples, the tradition developed that children receive the name of the father because he held all legal rights in the family.
The custom was quite different for unmarried couples where "the child was either given the surname of the mother or the mother was given the right to name the child," Harris wrote.
But in the latter half of the 20th century, however, the law shifted "away from the interests of the parents to a focus on the best interests of the child," he wrote.
Citing two key factors - the reasonable preference of the custodial parent and the avoidance of confusion or embarrassment - outweighed giving the girl her father's last name.
"We recognize that having a surname different from the noncustodial father's surname can have an impact on the relationship that the noncustodial parent has with the child," Harris wrote.
But, Harris wrote, "development of a bond between father and daughter will depend on the love and devotion that father exhibits toward his daughter, not on whether the child bears his name."
Neither Wizner nor Doherty has received any notice the case had been decided.
"Didn't we even get to go to court?" Doherty asked.
Wizner also said she thought the case was still in the Court of Appeals.
Attorney Anne Spicer represents Doherty. She said while the court's opinion is interesting because of its historical review of naming, she disagrees with the court.
Spicer said she hadn't yet spoken with Doherty about the matter. Wizner's attorney couldn't be reached before press time.
But Doherty said this ruling doesn't end here. He said he's ready to go "all the way" to the Oregon Supreme Court to resolve the case.
Wizner said she has full custody of the child, now 21/2-years old, has the child has always lived with her.
"As long as she lives with me, she will continue to use my last name," she said.