The first step of legally changing your name may be only the tip of the iceberg cost-wise. Rules and procedures vary from state to state, but some “hidden” costs usually exist in addition to the filing fees for your initial petition. There are ways around them, however.
Go online to your state’s judicial website. Most states offer forms for free legal documents. Print out a petition or application for name change. In some states, they’re interactive; you can complete them online and print out a finished copy. In others, you may have to print out the petition and fill it in by hand or type in your answers.
Take your completed petition to the clerk of the county court that handles name changes in your state. The submission of most legal documents requires notarization of your signature. Notary publics at banks or other professional institutions will generally charge you for the service, but the courthouse staff will notarize or witness your signature for free.
Ask the clerk for a fee waiver form when you’re at the courthouse having your petition signature witnessed or notarized. Some states call these “In Forma Pauperis,” or IFP, forms. Complete it and have the clerk witness your signature on this form as well.
Submit your IFP or waiver form to the court clerk, along with your petition. The clerk will not actually file your petition at this point; in most states, the clerk forwards all your paperwork to a judge for review. The judge will either deny your request for a fee waiver, requiring you to pay the filing fee for your petition, or he will sign an order, waiving your costs for filing the petition so the clerk can accept it.
Take a copy of your IFP or waiver order and your filed name change petition to the legal notice department of your local newspaper. Most states require that you run notice of your requested name change to allow interested third parties an opportunity to object to your request. The IFP order generally waives these publishing fees for you as well.
Attend a scheduled court hearing for approval of your name change, if your state requires it. If the judge approves your name change, he will give you an order confirming it. However, additional certified copies of the order sometimes require a fee and you'll need these to change your name with the Social Security Administration and other entities. When you’re in court, ask the judge if your IFP order waives the cost of extra copies as well.
Tips & Warnings
You may have to provide the court clerk with proof of your identity and income when you submit your IFP request. Take the original documents with you when you submit your IFP request and your petition. The clerk will either review them and then return them to you, or she may make copies to attach to your documents that she submits to the judge.
If you have sufficient income to pay your bills, a judge will probably not approve your fee waiver. Most states reserve such assistance for those suffering financial hardship. Your income may have to be below the federal poverty level. Some jurisdictions require that you receive public assistance to qualify.
References & Resources
- Minnesota Judicial Branch: Basics on Applying for a Name Change
- Minnesota Judicial Branch: Fee Waiver
- Superior Court of California, County of Orange: Name Change
- State of New Mexico, First Judicial District Court: If You Don’t Have a Lawyer – Information for Self-Represented Litigants
- Neighborhood Legal Services: Name Changes (PDF)
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images