There are plenty of reasons why an individual may wish to change his or her name, including after getting a divorce, getting married, a gender transition, or for other reasons. While there may be some reasons for a name change that are illegitimate, many who seek a name change are honest and want to be identified by their name of choice.
While a name change after divorce or marriage in Los Angeles seems like a simple process of just changing a few letters, if done improperly, it can have serious legal consequences. Los Angeles courts and California as a whole provide a number of ways to legally change your name.
The “Usage Method” in California
In California, people can change their names by something known as the usage method. The usage method basically allows an individual to pick a new name. This new name will become adopted if the individual uses the name in all aspects of life. While the usage method in California prevents an individual from going to court, it does not legally change an individual’s name. Documents like birth certificates, social security cards, and driver’s licenses cannot be changed solely through the usage method. Generally, when the state or federal government issues a document, there needs to be an official court order legally changing your name.
The usage method is common when someone goes by a nickname or a middle name. For example, if an individual’s legal name was Charles, and he referred to himself as Chuck and signed documents as Chuck, and everyone in the community knew the individual as Chuck, this would still not be enough for Chuck’s driver’s license to be changed from Charles to Chuck.
The usage method has further exceptions in that it can not be used by those in state prison or on probation or parole. Additionally, registered sex offenders cannot use this form of name change. Lastly, the usage method can never be used to change the name of a child. A child’s name change always requires a court order in Los Angeles. The name change can be submitted on a state-approved form.
How to File a Petition to Change Your Name in California
One of the first obstacles in a name change case is determining the appropriate form to use. There are over 20 name change forms that have been approved for use in California courts. Each form serves a different purpose, so it is important to use great care when selecting your initial form. An experienced family law attorney can help you determine the appropriate form to use.
After the appropriate forms are selected for your name change, you must review your forms and make at least two copies of all and file them with the clerk of court. You may be required to publish notice of your name change in a local newspaper for up to four weeks. This is known as an Order to Show Cause Form. This may be needed to notify family members or creditors. After the clerk of court accepts your forms, they will schedule a hearing. After attending this hearing, the court will issue a name-changing decree.
This process can take up to three months. In a busy court in Los Angeles County, the wait time may be even longer.
How Do I Take My Spouse’s Last Name?
It may be possible to take your spouse’s last name without going to court to receive a court decree changing your name. You may be able to change your last name by going to your local DMV and Social Security Office. It may be sufficient to show your old identification and your marriage license, and the office will issue you a new identification card. However, these organizations may still require the presentation of a court decree.
Changing Your Gender
California courts also provide forms for an individual who wishes to legally change gender. There are many similarities in this process to a name change but a few key differences. Similarly to changing your name, you must select the appropriate form and file it with the court. In addition to filing the form with the court, a physician or other medical professional must certify to the court that you have undergone all treatment that is appropriate for a gender transition. This form cannot be filled out by a nurse. The form is available here.