Legal Name Change Options

by Brenna Davis
You may have to file a name change petition to change your name.

You may have to file a name change petition to change your name.

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There are a number of reasons people change their name, including unifying a family, getting married or starting fresh with a new self image. It is illegal to change your name to avoid debt collectors or evade arrest, and many states have laws prohibiting sex offenders and other convicted felons from changing their names. The reason for your name change can affect the process of changing your name, and once your name is legally changed, you must change your name on financial documents to avoid confusion and maintain access to your money and bills.

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Marriage

Marriage is one of the most common reasons for a name change, and most women -- as well as an increasing number of men -- change their name to their spouse's last name. In most states, you can change your name on your marriage license application if you are a woman. However, only a few states -- California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota at the time of publication -- allow a man to change his last name on the marriage license application. Men who do not reside in these states and who wish to change their names must file a petition for name change. When you change your name on your marriage license application, forward the marriage license to the DMV, Social Security Administration and your state's office of vital records. Then change your name with your financial institutions. An a third-party legal document provider can complete the name change process for you in accordance with your state's specific laws.

Divorce

If you wish to change your name back to your given name after a divorce, your attorney can usually request this change in your divorce proceedings. The judge will issue a final order that you should then forward to the DMV, Social Security Administration and your state's office of vital records. If your divorce is already finalized, you will need to file a petition for name change.

Minor Name Changes

If your child's birth certificate contains an error, contact your state's office of vital records and ask about the procedure for correcting the error. In most states, you'll need to fill out a form and pay a small fee. Parents often change the name of adopted children, and the name change is normally a part of adoption proceedings. If, however, you wish to change the name of your child for another reason, you will need to fill out a petition for name change and have both parents -- or guardians, if the child has them -- fill out the petition.

Name Change Petition

All 50 states provide a process by which people can change their names if they don't fall into the above categories. Fill out a name change petition at the court in the county in which you reside. In most states, you are required to advertise the name change in a local paper for a set period of time before the judge signs the final order. After the judge signs the name change order, forward copies of it to the DMV, Social Security Administration and your state's office of vital records. You can then begin signing and using your new name on legal and financial documents.