There are different reasons why someone might what to change their legal name or those of their children. Some of the more common reasons include marriage and divorce or they are the victims of crimes, such as stalking, sexual abuse and domestic violence. When a parent remarries, they may seek to change their child’s name to take the new parent’s last name.

Are There Restrictions for Changing a Child’s Name?

State procedures for name changes are generally pretty straightforward. However, there are some restrictions that are common in all these procedures. For instance, you will be prohibited from changing your name in order to avoid legal consequences, such as an arrest warrant or conviction for a crime.

Also, you cannot change your name to assume someone else’s identity or to cause confusion. Finally, you will not be allowed to change your name to a racial slur or to words that incite violence.

What are the General Procedures for Changing My Name?

Generally, the procedure for changing your name requires that you start by filing a petition or application with the court near where you reside and filing the appropriate fee. Your state will require notice to interested parties in some cases, which might be satisfied by publishing it in the newspaper when direct notice isn’t feasible.

Further, consent from the non-custodial parent is required in most cases, so your proof of written consent will need to be included as part of your application. A copy of the child’s birth certificate should be provided and the death certificate of the other parent (if applicable).

You will be given an opportunity to explain to the court the reasons why you are seeking your name change and the court will consider whether the new name is restricted (i.e. it includes a racial slur or fighting words).

If the court grants your petition, you should inform relevant businesses (i.e. utility providers, employers or mortgage holders) and agencies (Post Office, Social Security Administration and motor vehicle department) as soon as possible to avoid any interruption of services.

Are the Requirements the Same for Adult and Child Name Changes?

In the case of a name change for a child, the state will require that the other parent be notified of the change to satisfy their parental rights. Parental rights provide that each parent can make decisions regarding their child’s health, education and well-being. The court will consider what is in the best interest of the child when determining issues involving custody and adoption.

Likewise, the court will consider whether the name change is in the best interest of the child. For example, if in the case of a remarriage the mother wants to change the child’s surname to the stepfather’s, the court will consider the other parent’s interest in the child retaining their surname.

In such cases, it will also consider whether it is in the best interest of the child (keep in mind that the best interest standard can vary from state to state). If the other parent is not in the child’s life, the court may still require that you demonstrate your good faith effort to notify the parent. You might do so by asking family and friends, checking public records or publishing the notice in a popular newspaper.

When is Notice Not Required When Changing Your Child’s Name?

Notice will not be required when the other parent’s right as a parent has been legally severed. Also, if the custodial parent is seeking a name change because of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault committed against the custodial parent or child, the court may determine that notice would be harmful and thus unnecessary.

Where Do I File My Petition for a Name Change?

You will file your petition with your local court, usually probate or family court. Your state’s procedures will specify whether you will need to file in a superior court, district court or some other court. If in doubt, you can always visit your court’s website to determine what types of cases it handles. Alternatively, you can contact the court clerk’s office directly.

If both parents are filing for the name change together, the court will generally grant the name change petition without delay. Often times, the name change request is in connection with another legal action, such as an adoption, child custody or protection order hearing.

In such cases, you may be required to attach your petition for a name change to that proceeding and file it in the court of original action. Alternatively, the name change will be part of the underlying action and you will not need to separately petition the court.

Do I Need an Attorney for My Child's Name Change?

A name change request can be straightforward if both parents consent. If there is not joint consent or your situation is less than straightforward, you should consider consulting with a family lawyer about your desire to change your child’s name.