If you are in California and considering a legal name change after marriage, divorce, changing a minor's name through a court order and/or any other unique name change need, there are a number of options available. Always remember to have all the required documents with you. It's also important to take advantage of easier and faster name changes, such as ensuring you have indicated such a desire to your divorce attorney for faster processing.
Marriage Name Change Options
First off, in California you can do almost what you want with your last name. To save time, you can use an online service providing California name change forms, which supports numerous marriage name change options. Here are options you could explore.
Choosing your spouse's last name
This is the most traditional and common name change that takes place after marriage. The wife takes the last name of her partner; you need to have a certified marriage certificate copy to effect it.
One of the most common ways of compromising in marriage, and in name change, is using a hyphen and keeping each of your last names. This happy compromise comes about when a spouse's name is very important in her business, social and personal life and changing it might bring legal, family or strictly business complexity. For instance, if you have created a very successful company with your name, which has become your identity, and your spouse insists you take his last name after marriage, hyphenation will save the day. Call it meeting right in the middle.
Remember, hyphenation combinations can take the middle name and the current last name of either spouses' or a combined hyphenation of the spouses' birth last name or middle name.
California is the home of celebrities and blending names is one of the new ways of approaching name change. Also a very happy compromise after marriage, it can be done by anyone. This includes coming up with a hybrid name with the elements of both the wife and husband's last name. For instance, if he is Devon Hotas and she is Stormy Rapaton they can blend the last names into 'Hotaton.' Always remember, no matter what you decide upon there are legal requirements and costs to meet. This option is mostly available for couples in California only and the blended last names must be written on the marriage license.
Spouse name legally and maiden name professionally
You can legally go with the spouse's name while keeping your maiden name for professional matters. It means professional brands are maintained while traditions are also respected in personal life.
Maiden as middle and last name of your spouse
You can take your maiden name and make it the middle name while taking the last name of your spouse. However, in California you must list the maiden name as the middle name on the marriage license for it to be done.
Male spouse taking wife's name
In case the wife has very strong reasons not to drop or change her last name in California, the husband can take the wife's maiden name and make it his last name. The State recognizes the right of the man to change his name as a result of marriage.
It's important to note that if you are recently married and want to have your last name changed to your spouse's last name, going to court is not required. You only need to contact the Social Security Office and the local DMV office and request them to change the name, especially on the social security card and driver's license, just by availing a certified copy of your marriage certificate or, in some cases, a certified copy of your marriage license/record. Sometimes these bodies might request a court order and you should be ready to get it.
Either party (husband or wife) changing the middle and/or last name
The California Name Equality Act of 2007 (external pdf link) provides an option for one or both parties to the marriage to change the middle name and/or last name. So, you can opt to just change your middle name, while leaving your last name untouched. Or change both your middle and surname in one fell swoop. While the choice is yours (and quite flexible to boot), the decision must be made at the time you apply for your marriage license application. Specify the new name(s) you intend to take after marriage on the provided form.
The "Usage Method"
Please note: California gives anyone the legal right of changing their name just by using it in all areas of life in what is called the "usage method." However, there are a few exceptions where government agencies might request a court order to officially accept that a name change took place. Thus, it's wise to have a court order even if you are following the "usage method."
With a court order you can effect name change on a legal name on all areas of your life, particularly government-related identification documents like social security card, passport, and driver's license. Make sure you have the name change decree's copy with you.
Divorce Name Change
In case you are seeking a divorce as well as a name change, perhaps to return to the maiden name, it's easier to complete this in the divorce case in one of the most straightforward processes in California. You only need to notify the divorce attorney attending the matter before finalizing the divorce so that the name change is dealt with as a part of the settlement or judgement.
Note: Divorcées can still use our name change kit (even though its apparent focus is marriage-based name changes), by swapping out references to "marriage certificate" with "divorce decree." Just make sure your document contains an order restoring your prior name.
Divorce finalized, but you forgot to restore your maiden name
In case the divorce decree has not ordered the name change or a reversion to an earlier name, simply file a normal petition for name change in the California superior court in your locality. This also applies for those seeking to change their names to another beyond the maiden name, including a prior one in another marriage that was in use in the past.
Divorce not finalized—restore your maiden name
However, if you are about to get divorced and have not finalized it yet, simply request the court to have the former name restored while submitting the proposed divorce judgement.
General Adult Name Change
To change your name as an adult in California, file a name change petition to get a court order from the court; takes about 90 days to complete. Once you have filed the petition a court date is given within the next 6-12 weeks. After the court has approved the request, a decree (court order) is provided to help you change your name with various government and non-governmental organizations. How fast you get a decree depends on how busy your local court is. The important thing is following the laid instructions carefully.
Prepare your name change forms
To ask for a name change in a California court, have all the necessary court forms filled out, which include the Petition for Change of Name and the Attachment to Petition for Change of Name (Forms NC-100 and NC-110 respectively), Order to Show Cause for Change of Name and Civil Case Cover Sheet forms. You can contact a family law facilitator to review the forms/paperwork so that everything is done properly.
After review, make two copies of every form; the originals remain with the court, one copy goes to the newspaper, and the other will be yours. File all the forms with the clerk of the court for stamping. Take stamped copies, as the clerk maintains with the original.
Publishing a notice of your name change in the newspaper
On the "Order to Show Cause" form you will find the time and court date, including the department number. You will also have to pay the filing fee at the court clerk's office; check the fee for the initial petition, as it may vary over time. There is also a fee waiver for those unable to afford it.
Once you're done with the court clerk, have the "Order to Show Cause for Change of Name" form published in a newspaper that is publicly circulated every week for a whole month, consecutively. Ask the court if there are approved newspapers for this. Check the publishing cost since the waiver doesn't include the newspaper publishing fee.
After this is done, appear at the court hearing on the material date carrying the proof that you published the Order to Show Cause in a local newspaper, including the Decree Changing Name to be signed by the judge. After the signing of the Decree Changing Name has been signed by the judge, ask the court clerk for a certified copy; use it to change each legal document from the birth certificate and government identifications, such as driver's license, passport and social security card.
Child Name Changes
To change the name of a child there are three scenarios; both parents can ask for a child name change, one parent can request the name change and a guardian can seek a child name change.
If both parents agree to change the child's name
If both parents want to change the child's name, the request can be filed together in a California court. Start by filing the "Petition for Change of Name" for the child and get a court date within 6-12 weeks after filing. After court approval you will get a decree changing the name of the child. Ensure all the required court forms have been filed and that you have the copies needed, including the proof of publishing to a newspaper the "Show Cause for Change of Name," if necessary.
If only one parent agrees, while the other opposes
In case only one parent is filing for a name change for a child, whether there is agreement or not among the parents, the court will give a date. You must however ensure the other parent understands you have filed the petition, including the petition's court date. In case the other parent disagrees with the name change, he/she can oppose the request. Once the judge has approved the request the decree court order will be given to change the child's name. Don't forget to go to the court hearing to receive the signed Decree Changing Name.
Guardians vs Parents
For a guardian who wants to change the name of a child, the process starts with filing of the Petition for Change of Name for a court date. You then have to notify the parents of the child about the petition and its date. If they disagree they can oppose the request. After the request has been accepted by the court you will get a decree or court order to change the name of the child by having all files required filed with the court clerk, publishing the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name, in case it's needed, and attending the court hearing to receive the Decree Changing Name, duly signed by the court judge.
Change of Name on Birth Certificate
To change the name on a birth certificate, follow the general adult name change route by filing a Petition for Change of Name for adults. Complete the entire process until you have a Decree Changing Name duly signed by the judge and receive from the court clerk a certified copy. Use the certified copy to change the name on your birth certificate.
If you have a court order provided by another court in a different State or territory of the United States, use it to amend the name on your birth certificate in California. Nonetheless, the court order should have the entire birth name before the change can be effected.
Changing Name on Social Security, DMV, Passport, IRS
To change the name on your Passport, DMV, Social Security card and IRS, among other government based documents, you need to have proof of legal name change; generally a certified copy of Decree Changing Name signed by a judge, certified copy of your marriage certificate, or certified copy of your divorce decree. For the DMV you need to visit a local office where you will also surrender the old driver's license and pay a $27 fee for the duplicate license. Before changing your name with the DMV, you need to report the change first to the SSA (Social Security Administration) by mail or in person. Notify IRS also about the name change, as well as any change of address that has occurred.
Other Non-Governmental Institutions
While the usage method of using a new name without a court order is alright in California, non-government institutions might request a proof of name change. With a certified copy of the Decree Changing Name duly signed by the judge in California, you should be able to request any body, from insurance companies, employers, academic institutions and financial institutions, to change your name.
Often, such organizations will accept a photocopy of your decree or marriage certificate, but you should still be prepared to furnish a certified copy, upon request.
Recognized Identity Documents for Your Name Change
There are documents you need to effect a name change. These include a certified copy or original copy of the legal name change document, certified copy of marriage certificate for marriage name change, certified copy of divorce decree for divorce name change, and court order (Decree Changing Name duly signed by the judge) for a general adult name change.
Remember, when asking for your name to be changed by the DMV and Social Security Administration, among other institutions, you might be asked to provide a United State's driver's license, United States Passport, and proof of U.S. citizenship such as a Certificate of Citizenship or United State's birth certificate.
All documents need to be certified copies or originals.