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There are so many reasons for seeking a name change. One might be divorced or seeking a divorce and might want to go back to a past married name or maiden name. It is also possible one has changed his or her gender and a name change might be in order.

Perhaps you have gotten married recently and you realize there is a need to take the last name of the spouse. In this case, going to court might not be a must since the local social security office and DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) can be contacted to request whether a Social Security Card name and driver's license name can be changed by showing the marriage certificate or marriage license. However, if this is not the case, a court order—granted by a court petitioned name change request—might be required and it is important to be prepared for it.

It is also worth noting that in a state such as California, every American citizen living there has the legal right to seek a name change by just using a wholly new name in every area of life in what is known as the Usage Method. Nonetheless, there are a couple of exceptions where government agencies might need a court order as a name change's official proof and thus seeking a court order is the best assurance and legal way of ensuring a name has been changed.

General information

Residents of a state in most cases have to go to the Supreme Court of their respective county for a name change. In a city such as NYC, name change can be done in the Civil Court of New York City. If a person is below the age of 18, a guardian or parent must file a petition on behalf of the minor and the judge must be convinced the name change is in the best interest of the person. It is also important to note that no matter how clear the name change process before the law might be, consulting a lawyer is a good option due to how quickly court procedures, agency rules, fees and laws change.

All required papers

A Birth Certificate and Petition is required in many jurisdictions for a name change to be effected. Once you have acquired the petition (which may be available for download online), complete it and add all the personal information needed. There are places like New York City where you need to add more information if it applies to you, such as whether you have been convicted of any crime before, and you must indicate for what, where and when, and the outcome of the case.

Grounds of application

When it comes to grounds for applying for a name change, indicate clearly what the judge should know for why this is important to you. You have the right to indicate whatever you want the judge to know as the reasons for seeking a name change as far as whatever you are saying is truthful. There is need for a name change announcement to appear in a newspaper, which only a judge can waive or say if it is not important or you do not have to (for a specific reason), such as risk to your life or safety. However, in case of clear reasons why a name change should not be printed in a public newspaper you must indicate them. For instance, hate crimes and domestic violence survivors might be at risk if their personal details were published.

The petition needs to be signed using the legal name you are currently using and notarizing it is very important. For those who might not understand the English language clearly, the individual doing the translation of the Petition needs to sign including having a translation affidavit notarized in many jurisdictions. It is also important to get a birth certificate that has been certified in case one does not own one.

For immigrants who have U.S. status, they have every right to have a name changed, although the details and process varies from one State to another. In such a case, a birth certificate is required and if it is not available immigration documents have to be used. Undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. could change their names but it is very vital to speak with an attorney before commencing the process.

For transgender people, the law does not require them to show any medical evidence as support of seeking a name change and, in most cases, the judge will follow the law correctly, but if he or she does not and deny a trans person the right to change a name, some medical documentation might be required. For such a circumstance, the important thing is talking to a psychologist, social worker or doctor to compose a letter detailing support for the petition to change your name. If for any reason a name change is denied due to lack of medical evidence, legal help can be sought to have the wish granted or medical evidence can be submitted.

Rap sheet

Those with criminal convictions also must submit a rap sheet or a disposition certificate for every conviction. These disposition certificate copies can be collected from the specific court where one was convicted. Low income people might not have to pay any fee to collect these documents. It is also very vital to closely look at the rap sheet in case of any mistake and if it shows you have an open arrest warrant you must take care of it before the rap sheet filing in any court. It is perhaps important to speak with an attorney at this juncture for more advice.

Supporting documentation

It is also vital and helpful to your case if you have extra documentation supporting what you are already saying in the Petition to smoothen the process. For instance, in case you would like your information not to be published due to domestic violence, the Order of Protection you have might really help if you attached a copy with the application. In case paying for the change of name is not possible, bringing a letter showing proof of inability to pay or limited income can really help your plea.

Filling out court forms

To request a court for a name change, different forms need to be filled out, which include Petition for Change of Name plus the Attachment to Petition for Change of Name, Civil Case Cover Sheet and Order to Show Cause for Change of Name. There are courts that require everyone one who wants a name change to fill a local form out to request the name change, such as a form on criminal background. It is vital to ask your lawyer or the local court clerk whether there are local forms to be filled out. For any form you have filled out, keep copies.

A lawyer can help review your forms or you can approach the self-help center or the family law facilitator if available in your State to help you with name change by reviewing the paperwork. This ensures you have filled the forms well before continuing the process. For every form, make at least two copies; the court keeps the original form and you remain with another while the second copy is for publishing in a public newspaper if you have to.

The clerk stamps the forms you brought with "Filed" before keeping the original and returning the other copies of the forms to you. In the Order to Show Cause find details on the court time, department number and date. Filing fee has to be paid and you can always enquire from your lawyer the filing fee required in case you are filing your first petition also known as first papers or first appearance. Those who might not be able to afford the filing fee can request a fee waiver. Those with documents to support their inability to pay the fee claim have an advantage at this juncture.

Order to Show Cause for Change publishing

In many cases, the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name has to be published in a newspaper that is generally circulated and depending on a number of things, for four weeks, once every week. The local court in most cases contains all the newspapers approved for legal notice publishing. Those in State Witness Program seeking a name change or those within the confidentially address program or changing names to avoid stalking, are sexual assault victims or avoiding domestic violence might not need to have the Order to Show Cause published.

Publishing costs vary a lot among different newspapers and the court filing fee waiver does not cover publication cost. Ensure you know the publishing price prior to indicating in the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name the newspaper this will be published in. The form cannot be changed once the judge has signed it.

Court hearing

You can then appear in court on the indicated hearing date, and remember to carry proof showing the Order to Show Cause has been published in an agreed newspaper (if you had to publish). The Decree Changing Name form should also be taken to the judge for signing.

Decree Changing Name collection

Once the judge has approved the name change request, the Decree Changing Name is signed and you can then go to the court clerk for a certified copy. This is required for changing all legal documents including Social Security Card, birth certificate and legal documents, plus other identifications issued by the government such as a driver's license or passport.

Name change on the Social Security Card

Once you have legally changed your name due to a court order, divorce or marriage and other reasons, the Social Security Administration needs to be alerted so that your card can be corrected. To change the Social Security Card required documents need to be shown, including identity proof where U.S. citizenship attestation might be required or non-citizen lawful status. Once the Social Security Card application is filled out and printed, it can be mailed or taken to the local social security office.

Government legal documents

For a new driver's license, you must go to the local department of driver services to apply for a new one. If the name change is the only one you have done in the current period of your license, name change is typically free.

Updating a passport can be done by sending an application securely through the mail plus the fee (if applicable) to the United States Department of State.

Birth certificate

To change the name on the Birth Certificate, the Vital Records office need to be contacted within the state you were born.

Non-government organizations

Once the name has been change in all the legal documents, ensure the name has been corrected with insurance companies, the bank and any other businesses one has interacted with. For such non-governmental entities, a photocopy of your court order will typically be accepted in place of a certified copy.

18 Comments

  1. brigitte mccullah

    hi..i have a question..i have a greencard since 1983 by my first husband which I had divorced four years afterwards…I remarried in 2011 in sc..as my return to the states in 2012..i issued a name change on my greencard to my second husbands name..my second husband issued a divorce after the year marriage and now..my ssc and drivers license is still on my first husbands name..and cant change it ..as my marriage license was signed with my maiden name( misspelled too) ssc office cant issue me a renewal of name change on my ssc which I cant get my drivers license either..i do not want under the curcumstances keep my second husbands name..so how can I reset it back to my first husbands name …so all my papers will match again

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Brigitte. You can contact USCIS about changing the name on your green card. Form I-90 deals with that. They'll require a you to provide reason and document (e.g., marriage certificate, court order) justifying your name change request. Attempting to revert to a prior name will likely require you go through a court petitioned name change process.

      A court order would be sufficient for the USCIS to change the name on your green card. That would then allow you to change your name on other pertinent documents, such as your social security card and driver's license.

      Reply
  2. Christian Go

    Great Article. Thanks for the info, super helpful. Does anyone know where I can find a blank civil case cover sheet form to fill out?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Christian. Here's a general civil cover sheet template I came across that's available for download and print. It's in a fillable PDF format. With that said, it would be better for you to contact your local court about getting such paperwork specific to where you live.

      Reply
  3. Nassy

    Hi ,
    I got to the country with a fiancee visa , i got married , i applied for social security number and i choosed the last name of my husband a week after I received the card , we still didn't start the process for the green card and now I would like to go back and change it to my last name because i want everything to match ( diploma , ect )
    Is it possible ?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Nassy. When you say you want everything to match, are you talking about changing your social security card again to return to your old name, or your green to match your SS card's use of your married name?

      Reply
  4. Rossana Rizzo

    Hi Valera,

    I married in 2009 in NY and decided to take my husband's last name. However, i never went through the process of changing my name on any of my documents. I renewed my drivers license in my maiden name and i continue to get checks in my maiden name. My passport expired last year in 2015 and i must now renew it. I would really like to keep my maiden name. What can i do to avoid this change? Do we have to get divorced and remarried to make a change to the marriage certificate? Thanks for your advice… To make the situation even more complicated: The reason i have to renew my passport is because i am applying for Italian Citizenship through my father. It would make the process of applying a whole lot easier if my last name was kept as my maiden name.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      I would really like to keep my maiden name. What can i do to avoid this change?

      You don't have to do anything differently. Just continue using your maiden name as you always have. Renew your passport in your maiden name, as well as any future documents. Just ignore the new last name you originally specified on your marriage certificate; it's nonbinding.

      Reply
  5. Alex G.

    Hello!
    I've been wrestling on what to start with on my name change and I was hoping you'd be able so shed some light on my situation.
    My husband and I got married in 2015 (in California, my home state) and I opted not to change my name at that time due to an apprenticeship I was currently in. My boss would've put it on hold until my apprenticeship license matched my new married name and I didn't want the word to spread before we had our "official wedding" in 2016. We were under a strict timeline from me finishing the internship so we could immediately move to my husband's home state, Colorado.
    Now that we're here, I'm regretting not changing my last name on the marriage papers. Would I have to do the name change through California (where we married) or Colorado (My new state of residence)? Would we still follow the same procedures for a change (background check, publication,etc.)?
    Thank you for your insight,
    Alex

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Would I have to do the name change through California (where we married) or Colorado (My new state of residence)?

      In Colorado.

      Would we still follow the same procedures for a change (background check, publication,etc.)?

      No, just do a regular marriage-based name change using a certified copy of your California marriage certificate. No court, petition, or publication.

      Reply
  6. shaibu ojochegbe.

    hello,
    my name is shaibu ojochegbe i, have a broblem about my name and i am 19 years of age, i graduated from secondary school these year. My dad told me that he make a misesstake that he for make me bear his name and his name is james, he wanted me to start bear ojochegbe schadrack james and i graduated from secondary school. will that be possible for me to legalistic change my name in that way without having broblem with me? and what about my secondary school ID CARD what will happen to it after that?, and will my name in that ID CARD will change?. thank's.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Shaibu. Once you obtain a court order to change your name, you can present it to your school to have them update your ID card.

      Reply
      1. shaibu ojochegbe

        ok.
        but their not updating it in my school, they used to travel before bringing our ID card for us. what of my name on my secondary school certificate will become change or remain valid? and for doing that will it not affect me future?.
        thank's.

        Reply
        1. Valera

          Hi Shaibu. What do mean they're not updating it? Have you presented them a court order? Have you solicited from them what specific procedure they require to update your credentials?

          Reply
          1. Valera

            Hi Shaibu. You should be good to go once you obtain your court order.

  7. Lisa Butler

    I'm getting a divorce and want to totally change my name to something new. We do have a Name Change Petition in the divorce paperwork but my ex put my maiden name. How can I get that changed? I live in Texas.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Lisa. Have your attorney modify your divorce papers. If you don't have an attorney, request the judge make the change. Name change choices through divorce are typically relegated to a prior name or maiden name. Changing to something entirely new isn't likely to pass.

      Reply

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