The complete guide to legally changing your name

LegalZoom explains how to legally change a name—from the documents needed to the potential pitfalls.  

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The process of legally changing your name depends on your state's laws and the reason you are changing your name.

Common reasons to legally change your name include marriage or divorce, gender identity change, and personal preference. But no matter your reason, you'll have to make a legal name change request.

Once you do change your name, there is a long list of people, entities, and other institutions to contact with the new information to make sure the change is complete.

In this article, LegalZoom explains the processes for legally changing your name to a new name and the steps for getting a name change order.

Deciding to change your name

Deciding to legally change your name is a big step and one that should not be made lightly. In most situations, you must have a very good reason to change your name, and a judge must approve your request and issue a name change order unless the name change is related to marital status.

You may change your first name, middle name, and/or last name to a new name or names. Note that you can change your title (for example, Mr., Ms., or Mrs.) at any time you want since it is not a legal designation.

How to change your name

If you decide you want to legally change your name (first name, middle name, or last name) for a reason not related to marriage or divorce (such as gender change or gender identity, because your name is hard to spell or pronounce, or because you just do not like it), you must go through a court process, make a name change request, and receive a court order to be allowed to change your name. The simple process is easy to do, is the same process whatever your reason, and is governed by state law.

How to file for a name change

In most states, your local court clerk at your county courthouse can provide you with the legal forms, legal documents, name change request form, or name change document with the basic steps you need to request a name change. You must file the original completed documents with the court.

You may have to show your current driver's license as legal proof of identity when you submit your paperwork. You will likely need to submit a petition for a name change along with other documents required in your court. There will be a local document fee which varies by state. The fee varies by state but is usually under $300. In Texas, for example, the filing fee for the petition with the court is between $150 and $300, depending on where you live.

The court may require you to undergo a background check by the FBI and have your fingerprints taken in addition to the completed form you must file. You will pay a fee for this as well.

Your state might also require you to publish a public notice of your name change in a local newspaper so that anyone who objects can be heard. The court clerk or county clerk's office will give you step-by-step instructions. You will have to provide proof of publication and pay the publication cost.

In most states, you will likely have to attend a brief court hearing at a court date where the judge may ask a few questions about why you are changing your name. The entire process from filing to completion may take a few weeks to a few months, depending on how busy the courts are.

You cannot change your name to impersonate someone else (such as a famous person), hide your identity, escape prosecution for a crime or a debt, or defraud anyone. You cannot change your name to something obscene or offensive, like a racial slur. In most states, your name must use letters, not numbers. Your new name must meet your state's requirements for a legal name.

Steps for legally changing your name

Once you work through the court process for legally changing your name, submit your completed form, and have your court appearance, there are still more steps you need to take to ensure that your new name is fully in use.

1. Obtain the court order and new birth certificate

Once your court procedure is completed, the court will issue a court order legally changing your name to the new name. You may need to obtain a certified copy of the order. Your state will then issue a new birth certificate. This document is key because you will need to present it to change other documents and records. You may need a certified copy of it for some institutions.

2. Change government and financial records

Once you have your new birth certificate, get a copy with a raised seal (getting this upfront will save hours because you will have to request it later) and present that to the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration to get your new driver's license or photo ID, and Social Security card. They will each have specific forms you will need to complete and may have other documents you must bring with you for the change. The DMV may have a fee for the change.

Once you have the new driver's license and Social Security card, you can use those to change other documents and obtain altered items such as your new passport (make sure the passport matches your name on other documents), insurance card, car registration, credit cards, bank accounts, credit union accounts, investment accounts, government offices, voter registration information, bank statements, Global Entry, investments, financial records, other financial accounts, deeds, titles, and other documents.

If you aren't sure how to change your name on something, check with the issuing agency. Changing your name everywhere can be time-consuming, but it is important to be thorough.'

It is also important to note that simply changing your name does not change your intestacy rights to inheritance.

Changing your name based on your marriage certificate

If you want to know how to change your name after marriage, the first thing to know about a name change after marriage is that it is your choice whether to change it or not. You do not need a court order or a change document to change your name after you get married.

If you are wondering how to legally change your last name after marriage, you can take your spouse's last name or hyphenate your last name and your spouse's last name. In a name change after marriage, you cannot change your first name, but you can also change your current middle name if you change it to your premarital last name.

If you want to change your last name after marriage to your spouse's last name, all you need to do is show a copy of your marriage certificate to get your name changed everywhere. Once you have your new driver's license or passport, that will work for the name change request.

The marriage certificate itself will not show your married name, but the certificate provides proof that you are permitted to do a name change after marriage.

Once you are married, you can change your name to your spouse's name at any time you want—immediately or months or years later. Whenever you do it, your marriage certificate is the proof you need to show.

Changing your name after marriage: other situations

Sometimes when changing their name after marriage, a couple may decide they both want to change their names to an entirely new last name or combination of their previous names. In that instance, each spouse will need to file a formal name change petition with a local court.

It is important to understand that if your marriage ends, your name remains the same unless you take steps to change it.

Social Security card

After your marriage, you take your marriage certificate along with the required Social Security form and other documents requested to the local Social Security Administration office, and you will be issued a new Social Security card in your married name.

Your local Social Security office

To locate your local Social Security office or branch location, visit www.ssa.gov/locator. This is where you will go to get the name on your Social Security card changed after your name change.

Driver's license

To change your last name on your driver's license after marriage, you take your marriage certificate to the DMV, complete the required paperwork, pay a fee, and provide any further documentation.

Other steps in marriage name change process

Once you have your new driver's license and Social Security card, you can go on to legally change your name with other government agencies. Note that your name is not changed when you do a name change after getting married unless you actively ask for it to be changed on all documents.

When can you change your name with a divorce?

If you changed your name to your spouse's name when you married and had a new married name, you might want to change your name back to your maiden name (also called a premarital name) if you get divorced. You are not required to do so, however. If you have a child, you might want to keep your married name so it will match your child's name. Your former spouse does not have to give permission or agree if you want to do a name change after divorce.

Steps for changing your name after divorce

To change your name after divorce back to your former name, you must decide that you want to change your name back (or that you want to have the option to change it back) during the divorce proceedings or divorce case. During the divorce process, you must make a request to the court to be able to change your name. Your name will not automatically revert to your maiden name or premarital name. You must request the legal name change.

Divorce decree and name change process

If you ask the court for the right to change your name to your premarital name, the judge will include a clause in your divorce decree giving you the legal ability to change your name to your premarital name. You do not need to go through any other court process or file for a legal name change. Your name after divorce can be legally changed to your premarital name without any other court order.

How to legally change your name in the divorce process

Once the divorce is concluded and your state's court has issued the divorce judgment or divorce decree, you will then use that document to legally change your name elsewhere as part of your name change process.

Birth certificate after divorce

If you changed your name when you married, your birth certificate was not altered. Therefore, when you get divorced, you do not need to make any changes to your birth certificate.

Social Security Administration legal name change

After you have your divorce decree, take it to a Social Security office and have your Social Security card changed back to your premarital name as part of your name change process. You will get a new Social Security card.

Other steps

After you have completed the legal steps for changing your name after a marriage or divorce, make sure you change your name on documents and accounts, including with your insurance companies, utilities, Global Entry, financial institutions, investment accounts, doctor's offices, driver's license, your current passport, credit cards, brokerage account, banks, investments, loyalty programs, your employer, and payroll information.

Banks require that you provide legal identification when you change your name on accounts, so bring the document that authorizes the change as well as your new driver's license.

You may also want to change your name on your social media accounts, but you don't have to wait for the name change to be official to do that.

You don't need to notify the United State Postal Service of the name change since all mail addressed to your address will be delivered. But if you move soon after a name change and have an address change, be sure to forward mail in both names.

If you have airline tickets, be sure the name on the boarding pass matches the ID you present. It may be wise to hold off on booking tickets until you complete your name change.

Changing a child's name

If you want to change your child's birth name, you must file a petition for a name change in court, and both parents must agree, or a court must order the child's name change when a judge signs an order if a parent makes an ex parte application. Sometimes after a divorce, a parent wants the child's name to change to a stepparent's last name because of the child's relationship with the stepparent. This is only possible if the other parent agrees.

If a child is adopted, their legal name is legally changed on their new birth certificate.

Your name is a very personal choice, and you have the right to change it to fit your marital status, personal preferences, and other life changes. The name change process just requires a few steps and attention to detail. You do not need to buy name change kits and can make the change on your own. Name changes are simple to do and give you control over your identity.

How a name change lawyer can streamline the process

No matter what your reason may be for changing your legal name, it can be a challenge to navigate all of the legal processes involved. To help, many lawyers offer a flat, one-time fee to help you prepare for any court hearings, draft petitions, and even make sure that all of your legal information is properly updated after the fact.

If you're struggling with the process or just want to make sure it's done—once and for all—consider reaching out to an experienced name change attorney for help.

Name change FAQs

How much does it cost to change your name?

For both marriage certificates and divorce decrees, the "cost" of changing your name is included with the act of filing for those respective documents. A name change via court order, however, typically involves a one-time filing fee that varies from state to state ($100 to $500).

Do I need to update my birth certificate if I change my name?

If you change your name during marriage or divorce, you won't need to update your birth certificate. If you perform a name change via court order or during adoption, however, you'll likely want to file for a new birth certificate for you or your child that reflects the most current name.

How long does the name change process take?

For divorces and marriages, name changes technically occur as soon as the divorce decree or marriage license is filed. For court-ordered name changes, the process involves gathering documentation, filing a petition, setting a court date, appearing in court, and receiving official documents—all of which can take weeks or months to complete. In these situations, a name change lawyer can help expedite and streamline the process.

This story was produced by LegalZoom and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.






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