Although anyone can informally change their name by simply using a different one, if you want your new name to appear on official documents such as your driver’s license, social security card, passport and bank accounts, you’ll need a court order legally changing your name.
The procedure for getting that court order varies depending on the state and county where you live. Costs also vary, but might include:
- Court filing fees
- Fees for certified copies. A certified copy is a photocopy with an official seal on it. The cost of a certified copy varies according to the locality and the length of the document, but is typically $20 or less.
- Fees to publish a notice in a newspaper
- Fees to an attorney or a service such as LegalZoom to prepare name change documents for you. You may also have attorney’s fees if someone opposes the name change and you decide to have a lawyer represent you at the hearing.
- Fees for changing the name on a birth certificate
Changing Your Name After Marriage
If you plan to follow the traditional approach and take your husband’s last name after marriage, you may be able to change your name on all your official documents by simply providing a certified copy of your marriage certificate. You do not need to file a petition with the court.
However, if you are planning a less traditional name change after marriage—such as creating a new last name for both spouses or having the husband take the wife’s last name—you will most likely have to petition a court for a name change.
Changing Your Name After Divorce
If you changed your name when you got married but want to go back to your former name after your divorce, you can ask for your name to be changed as part of the final divorce decree. If you do this, a certified copy of the divorce decree will usually be sufficient to change your name on all of your official documents.
However, if you did not request a legal name change as part of the divorce, or if you also want to change your children’s names, you will need to petition the court for name changes for yourself and/or your children.
Petitioning a Court for a Name Change: Procedure and Costs
To legally change your name, you must file documents with the court in the city or county where you live. In many instances, you will also need to attend a hearing. You can’t simply change a name online.
You’re generally allowed to change your name for any reason except to commit fraud or evade the law.
Preparing the paperwork: The first step in changing your name is to prepare a name change petition and other documents to file with the court. You can research the procedure and prepare these documents yourself, you can use LegalZoom’s online name change service to prepare the documents, or you can hire a lawyer. LegalZoom’s service currently starts at $139; a lawyer may charge a flat fee or an hourly rate to prepare and file documents and appear on your behalf at a name change hearing.
Filing the petition: The court will charge a fee to file your name change petition. These fees vary from state to state. For example, the filing fee is currently $150 in Massachusetts, $200 in New Jersey and $435 in California.
Publishing notice: Many states require you to publish notice of your name change in a newspaper. These sorts of notices are published in the classified section of newspapers, under the category “legal notices.” The judge may tell you where to publish your notice, or you may be allowed to choose.
You must pay the newspaper a fee for publishing your legal notice. Costs can vary dramatically depending on the newspaper, so it’s wise to shop around if you have a choice. Many cities have a legal or business newspaper that publishes legal notices at a lower cost than the regular daily newspaper.
Obtaining certified copies: After you file and publish your petition (if that’s required), the court will hold a hearing on your name change. If the judge approves your name change, he or she will issue an order. You will need to get a certified copy of the order to take to such places as the Social Security office, the DMV and your bank.
Changing your birth certificate: If you also want to change your name on your birth certificate, you’ll need to take the certified copy of the name change order to the bureau of vital records or similar agency in the state where you were born. There is usually a fee for changing a birth certificate.
Additional Requirements for Changing a Child’s Name
Minors under the age of 18 cannot change their own names—a parent must file the name change petition. The procedure and cost for changing a child’s name is the same as for changing an adult’s name, except that the parent filing the petition must take the extra step of serving the other parent with notice of the name change petition.
If you don’t know where the other parent is, you will need to make serious attempts to locate that parent, and if you cannot, you will probably have to publish notice of the name change in a newspaper.
A name change can be an important part of a fresh start after a marriage, divorce or other life event. A name change is simple legal proceeding that doesn’t usually require a lawyer, but you do need to make sure you prepare the paperwork properly and follow all the court’s rules and instructions.
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.