How to Change a Female's Last Name in New York

by Terry Masters

New York law allows any resident of the state to change her name for any reason other than to defraud people. Women can make a name change official by using the New York marriage license application, in situations where the change is part of the marriage process, or by filing a name change petition with a civil court in a New York district.

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A woman who lives in New York can change her last name at the time she submits a marriage license application. The application has a name change section that allows a woman to pick one of four last name iterations. She can choose to adopt the surname of her spouse in place of her own last name; a hyphenated last name that combines her complete last name with the complete surname of her spouse; a last name that combines portions of the surnames of her and her spouse; or any former surname of either spouse. The marriage certificate evidencing her new last name is legal evidence of the name change. A woman cannot change her first or middle name through this process. If a mistake relating to a woman's last name is made on the marriage application or certificate, the only way to change it through the New York Marriage Bureau is by getting married again.

Petitioning the Court

To legally change a woman's name in New York, including making a change to her last name only, she must submit a petition to the civil court in any New York court district. The court provides a name change petition template that can be downloaded from the website of the New York Unified Court System and filled out. The petition must be signed and notarized, and filed with the clerk of the court, along with a certified copy of the woman's birth certificate and the applicable filing fee. If the woman has been convicted of a crime, she must also submit a certificate of disposition for each action or a rap sheet. The clerk will assign a court date. On that date, the judge reviews the application and issues a name change order. The petitioner will most likely be required to publish notice of the name change order in a newspaper of general circulation within 60 days of the order and submit proof of publication to the court within 30 days. At that point, the name change is official.

Name Changes for Minors

If a female under the age of 18 wants to change her last name in New York, she must have the permission of her parents or legal guardian. The parents or guardian must petition the court on her behalf. Unlike adults, who can change their name for any legitimate reason, the petitioners on behalf of a minor must show that the change is in the best interest of the child before a judge will issue an order.

Special Circumstances

If the woman who wants to change her name is a legal immigrant who cannot obtain a birth certificate from her country of birth, she may be able to use immigration documents in lieu of a certificate. If the woman is an undocumented immigrant, she still has standing under the law as a New York resident to change her name but will likely need a lawyer to navigate the process without endangering her status. New York courts will waive the publication requirement for any woman who can show good reason, such as in incidences of domestic violence. Submitting a copy of an order of protection to the court is typically enough evidence to waive publication. The court will also waive the filing fee if the petitioner can show financial hardship.