How to Change Your Last Name Without the Court

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How to Change Your Last Name Without the Court

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

If you want to legally change your last name because you are getting married, divorced, or simply prefer a different last name, you need to follow your state or local government's requirements. Generally speaking, you can change your name without separate legal hearings or court orders if the name change relates to your marriage or divorce. Your state may also provide other limited circumstances under which you can legally change your name without the court's involvement.

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Changing Your Last Name After Marriage or Divorce

Most states allow one or both spouses to change their last names without a separate name change petition after getting married. You could choose to take your spouse's last name, hyphenate your last names, or in some states, choose a new last name unrelated to either your name or your spouse's name. The marriage certificate is a legal document that functions as a replacement for a court ordered name change, allowing you to update your legal name on your state and federal identification documents, bank and other financial accounts, insurance policies, and more.

Similarly, getting a divorce is another way to legally change your last name in most states without going through a separate, costly court name change process. The divorce decree, or Decree of Dissolution, should clearly establish the name you want to use after the divorce is final. Be aware that in some states, a divorcing person can only choose between their married name and their last name before the marriage; they cannot select a new last name.

Other Circumstances

Another common name change scenario that does not depend on a separate legal proceeding is adoption. If you legally adopt someone or if you are an adoptee, the adoption paperwork specifies the adopted person's new last name. In most states, this is the legal document you need when updating identification and other records to reflect the name change.

Finally, in certain limited circumstances, you can legally change your last name without going to court by continuously and consistently using a new name in place of your previous name. This is sometimes referred to as a "common law name change." However, you still need to provide legal documentation of your name change to update identification documents. Review your state's laws or consult with an attorney to determine whether you meet the criteria for a common law name change.

Options When You Need a Separate Court Order

If you want to legally change your last name but need a separate court order to do so, you can work with an attorney in your state or you can use a reputable online legal services provider to obtain and complete the required name change documents.

The legal name change process varies from one jurisdiction to another but typically includes filing a petition or application with the court, providing supporting documentation, paying required fees, notifying interested parties or the public of the pending application, and attending a court hearing on the matter. But keep in mind the instances when you can change your name without the court's involvement.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.