Name Change – Legal Process
Why Do People Change Their Name?
Whether it’s a mid-life crisis, near-death experience, or divorce, people are changing their names in record numbers and for a variety of surprising reasons.
For a growing number of Americans changing their name means finally having a say in the matter of their own identity and persona – changing a name is one way for people to feel that they are really recreating themselves from scratch. More commonly however, most name changes occur following a divorce in which the spouse wants to change the name back to its maiden form.
With the great wave of immigration to America in the early part of the last century, name changes were very common phenomena. People from far away lands wanted to change their name upon immigrating to the United States. Immigrants wanted to fit in more with their new surroundings so many took English-sounding names, which made the transition to their new home that much easier.
Under common law, changing your name required only that you stop using your previous name and openly and continuously use your new name in all of your present and future personal, business and professional dealings. As you can imagine, this rather informal method of name change “by use” was hard to track and fraught with potential problems. This is why most states eventually crafted their own set of rules requiring court involvement in the name change process.
Name Change Through Divorce Proceedings
Generally, if you want to change your name during a divorce, you may do so by changing your name within the four corners of the divorce decree. In most jurisdictions, you may request the same judge who is presiding over your divorce case to include a special order restoring your maiden name in the divorce decree upon the completion of the divorce proceedings.
Once you receive your judicial order granting the name change you will want to obtain certified copies of the order for your personal records and safekeeping. In fact, it is recommended that you obtain multiple certified copies of the order and keep one with your lawyer or trusted friend. You will need a certified copy of the judicial order granting the name change when you apply for a new driver’s license, passport, credit card, bank account and virtually any other thing you will be doing legally – including purchasing a home. Even if your divorce decree doesn’t contain an order restoring your former name, you may be able to have the divorce decree amended later to reflect your requested name.
Name Change Through General Court Petition
Another method to change your name is to file a name change petition with the court. This will require an affidavit or certification by you which will usually include how long you have used your current name, why you want to change it, and what specific name you would like to have in its place. You should be prepared to provide a clear statement of why you want to legally change your name.
If the court grants your petition for name change, an order will issue stating this fact and will bear your new legal name. Again, make sure you obtain a certified copy of the order for your records. This is the document that you will be presenting to all state and federal authorities so be prepared to surrender your old identification when you receive your new ones.
Name Change Without Using A Lawyer
Most lawyers will charge you either by the hour or by the matter, in this case, for a name change. A name change by petition will normally require a separate court appearance along with completing and filing of all the required forms legally necessary to change your name.
Most small law firms will charge anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 for the complete process, including going to court and handling all the necessary paperwork. However, you will need to still apply to your own local department of motor vehicles to obtain the name change to your driver’s license as well as other important legal documents. It is strongly recommended that you advise you estate lawyer to modify all wills and codicils so that it reflects your new chosen name.
Name Change Without A Lawyer
There are a variety of online legal document preparation services that will handle a name change for you on the cheap. All you need to do is answer a few questions and fill out a few online check-the-box forms and your name change documents will be prepared for you to file and present to the court.
Using a discount legal document service can save you up to 60% or more in fees and charges compared with the services of a lawyer. You need to know however that these services can neither provide you with legal advice nor represent you in court. To ease the burden and anxiety of going to court, most name change services will provide you with an easy-to-understand instruction booklet on what to say and do at your name change court hearing.
Cannot Change Name For Dishonest Purposes
One of the reasons why courts require a separate hearing on name changes is to make sure that the person changing their name is not doing so for fraudulent, dishonest or illegal reasons, such as escaping a bankruptcy order or avoiding having to make child support payments, or for the purpose of committing a crime such as identity theft.
Finally, if you want to change your name, you are always free to simply use that new name in all your personal and businesses affairs. In order to avoid complications down the road, however, it is best to obtain a court-ordered name change. This will allow you to change your name on all legal, financial and government documents.