When you get married, it is incredibly enticing to change your name to match your partner. In fact, most couples do end up changing their names so that they have a cohesive family unit. Following a divorce, though, it is common for the former spouses to want to change their names back to what they were before so that they can begin their life anew. Depending on the circumstances, the process involved can be either simple and quick or lengthy and complicated.
If you or someone you love is looking into name changes after divorce, reach out to Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team today for help.
Changing Your Name as an Adult
While the name change after marriage can seem like a cumbersome experience, a name change post-divorce is surprisingly simple. For a newly divorced adult, all you must do is go to the Prothonotary's office in whichever county you choose. Just fill out the name change request form and pay the necessary fee. If the divorce was decreed in a different state, you would just need to bring proof of the divorce with you to the Prothonotary's office.
As you can see, name changes that are a result of divorce are relatively simple to attain; however, a name change for any other reason is somewhat more difficult to achieve. Due to concerns regarding credit reporting, evading a criminal history, or committing fraud, Pennsylvania may not grant a name change if a divorce is not involved. Individuals seeking a name change for any reason other than divorce must file a petition in the Court of Common Pleas and publicize the fact that they are about to change their name.
The petition to the Court of Common Pleas must include the following information:
- Your desire and intention to change your name.
- The reason you want to change your name.
- Where you currently reside.
- Your residence (or residences) for and during the five years prior to filing the petition.
- A set of your fingerprints.
Once your petition has been filed, the court will enter an order for you to give notice of your name change, including that you publish the notice. The reason the court asks you to publish the name change is to put the community on notice that you are trying to change your name; that way if anyone has a lawful objection to it, they will be able to notify the court.
In general, name change petitioners are asked to publish notice of their name change in two newspapers that are in general circulation. Then you must present proof of your notification at the hearing for your name change petition. If the Court of Common Pleas finds out you did not publish a notification of your name change, it will directly affect your ability to receive the name change. Additionally, the court may waive the publication requirement if you can prove that making the publication would directly affect you or your child's safety.
It is important to note that in Pennsylvania, it costs anywhere between $250 and $600 to legally change your name or the name of your child. Many individuals may qualify for financial assistance to help offset, or completely waive, this cost. A qualified family law attorney can help you determine what the actual cost of your case will be.
Changing a Minor's Name
At times, parents or caretakers may wish to change the name of a minor. This situation can arise because of parents who have divorced, or if there is a change in custody. If both parents willingly consent to change the child's name, they must fill out a name change form, which can be found on the back of the child's birth certificate. This form is then mailed to the Department of Vital Statistics. The Department of Vital Statistics will then send the parents a new birth certificate with the correct name on it.
The process becomes a bit more complicated if both parents do not agree to the name change. When only one of the parents wishes for the child's name or surname to be changed, they must file a petition for a name change with the Court of Common Pleas in the county where they live. They also must notify the child's other parent of the name change request and must prove to the court, via a certificate of service return receipt, that they have done so. Without proof of this notification, the petition may not be able to move forward.
While the change of name petition is the same as if the child were an adult, the process for granting the name change has a different standard. The court, like any matter involving a child, will determine if a name change is appropriate by using asking, “what is best for the child?" To determine this, they will evaluate the following factors:
- Age of the child: The age of the child will affect their ability to understand the significance of the name change. This can be both positive and negative for a potential name change. A younger child may not have any care about whether their name is changed, but an older child may have an opinion on what they wish their name to be. The court will decide how much weight to give their preference.
- Social aspects: If the change in name will affect the child's social standing in their school or friend circles, the court may not be willing to change it. Such circumstances include if a parent's surname is well-known or notorious for any reason.
- Bond between child and parent: If the name change will disrupt the bond between the child and parent, the court may not grant it. To some, surnames carry a great deal of generational weight and history, and changing a surname can jeopardize this bond.
Tips for Your Hearing Date
If you need to attend court to determine whether your name change or the name change of your child, will be approved, there are a few things you can do to prepare for your hearing date. First, make sure you bring proof of your financial standing. Like most states, Pennsylvania worries that people are trying to change their names to avoid outstanding judgments or liens against them. Because of this, they require adult petitions to present official proof that there are none against them. Proof can be garnered by doing a name search in the Prothonotary's office or the Recorder of Deeds office. They will issue a report on the name search. You must pick this up right before the hearing and then present it during your hearing.
On your hearing date, you should consider arriving at least 15 minutes prior to your appointment to avoid any chance that you could be delayed. Make sure you dress in appropriate attire and be prepared to explain why you want to change your name.
As long as the Judge does not object, they should sign the order right there. You will be able to obtain copies right then or, at least, within two business days of your hearing. You should purchase at least three copies so that you can change your birth certificate, Social Security Card, Driver's license, and Passport, as all of these organizations request original copies of the document to complete the name change.
How a Skilled Family Law Attorney Can Help
For the most part, changing your name, or the name of your child seems like a no-brainer. You are past that experience in your life where you took on or were given that name, and you are hoping for a fresh start. But seeking a name change can be even more complicated when divorce isn't involved or parents disagree on the name change. Working with a skilled family law attorney will ensure you receive the best possible outcome for your case.
If you or a loved one is seeking a name change or involved in other matters of Family Law, Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Attorney Lento has spent his career helping families navigate the legal side of the changes they are making to their family unit. As such, he has a set of skills and experience that is unmatched by other attorneys. He will work diligently to ensure you are able to live the life you want on your terms. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.