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Last night, I was looking through my server logs and was glad to see that several people have been reading some of the articles in this site’s Domestic Violence Information section. Then I discovered something that suddenly made me feel very sad. One visitor had arrived at my site after doing a Google search for the words, “change name escape abuse.” Knowing that this site doesn’t have any information on how to change your name, I felt sort of like someone was in real trouble and had called me for help, but they had gotten my answering machine instead of me. So, this morning, I wrote this explanation of how the process of legally changing our names worked when my wife and I did it last year. I hope this article will provide some help or guidance to someone who is looking for that type of information.
Please note, however, that while this article will give you an idea of what we had to do to change our names, your particular state or county’s name-change process and requirements may be very different than what they were for us, and depending on how complicated your particular situation is, you may need to hire an attorney to help you change your name. At the very least, you should call your local women’s shelter, to see if they have anyone on staff who can help you through the lengthy and often-difficult name-change process.
My wife and I live in Florida. In the state of Florida, individuals (and couples who have no minor children) can change their first, middle, or last name for just about any reason, except to escape their creditors or to cover up the fact that they have a criminal past. In our particular county, we had to go to our county courthouse and pay about $10 to buy an inch-thick package of name-change forms. No one in county government would even tell us which of those forms we had to fill out and they answered every single one of my questions by saying, “We can’t give you legal advice. If you don’t know what to do, you’ll have to hire an attorney to help you.” We couldn’t afford to hire an attorney, so I spent an entire day carefully reading through every single page of the name-change packet, trying to understand all of the legalese.
Surprisingly, after awhile, it all started making sense to me. What I figured out was that, out of that entire stack of forms, my wife and I really only needed to fill out 4-6 pages that were spread out in 3 different sections of the packet. The reason the packet is so thick is because it has forms to cover every possibility that might come up. For example, if you have children who are minors, and you want to change their names, too, the name-change process gets a lot more complicated than it is for people who have no minor children. If you have minor children, you generally need the permission of their other parent before you can change the children’s names, so the name-change packet contains forms for that. If the other parent refuses to give their permission, then there are forms to try to get the court to let you change their names anyway. If the other parent ignores the court’s subpoena, there are forms for that, etc., etc., etc. Basically, if you’re willing to change your own name without changing your minor children’s names, the name-change paperwork is significantly easier to fill out, and the name-change process takes a lot less time than if you need to change the children’s names, too.
If my wife and I had wanted different last names, we would have had to fill out individual name change requests, and the name-change fee itself would have cost us a couple of hundred dollars apiece. But since we both wanted the same last name, we were able to fill out the “family name change” form, to change both of our names in one request, so the fee was a couple of hundred dollars for the two of us. We didn’t have to pay any attorney’s fees, since I had figured out which forms to fill out all by myself. It took a few hours to fill them out. They required a lot of historical information such as a list of every address we’ve lived at our entire adult lives, along with the dates that we lived there. I don’t remember for sure, but I think we also had to list all of our previous employers, with their names and addresses. We also had to state for the record that we’re not convicted felons and that we’re not changing our name to get away from creditors. In the state of Florida, you can legally change your name for just about any reason, except that you can’t do it to try to leave your criminal record behind or to try to avoid your creditors.
The forms also required basic identification information, like our Social Security numbers. We also had to attach a copy of our marriage license, to prove that we’re married. And of course, we had to state the new name that we wanted. My wife chose to keep her first and middle name, but changed her last name to the name that we had chosen together. I kept my first name, dropped my middle name completely, and changed my last name to our chosen last name.
Then we had to make an appointment to be fingerprinted at our local police station. That cost about $10 apiece and took about a half-hour for both of us. At that time, we also agreed in writing to let law enforcement do criminal background checks on us — as required by the state of Florida when you legally change your name. We added the completed fingerprint forms to our packet of name-change paperwork.
Once we had filled out all of the required name-change paperwork and gotten our fingerprint forms, I went back to the county courthouse and turned it all in, along with the money for the name-change fee. Even though the county people had earlier refused to even tell us which name-change forms we would need to fill out, I was glad when the courthouse clerk looked through every page of our paperwork, to make sure that it was all there and it was all completed correctly. It was. We were assigned a court date almost 2 months later — probably to give law enforcement time to complete our criminal background checks.
On our assigned date, we took our drivers licenses (for identification) and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the county courthouse and waited outside the office of “The General Magistrate,” a court-appointed attorney who serves in sort of a high-level clerical role for things like name-changes. When our time came, an armed guard escorted us into his office. He asked us if we were the people who we had said we were. We said, “Yes.” He asked us if we wanted to change our names to the names that we had listed on our name-change forms. We said, “Yes.” He typed our new names in his computer, printed a page that showed our new names, and had us check them to make sure that he had typed them correctly. Then he signed our forms, stamped them with some sort of official stamp, and we were done. The whole appointment took less than five minutes, and our name change was finally official.
After that, it took about twelve days before we received an official, certified copy of our “name-change court order” in the mail. We knew that we had to notify about 75 different credit card companies, banks, utility companies, previous employers, insurance companies, doctors, retirement account holders and others that we had changed our names. In fact, we had made a long list of all the places that had to be notified.
We started by going to our local Social Security office to change our names on our Social Security cards, while keeping the same Social Security numbers that we had always had. After filling out their name-change forms and waiting in line for a long, long time, they changed our names in their computer system, destroyed our old Social Security cards, and gave each of us a one-page letter of receipt, confirming that we had applied for new Social Security cards and stating that our new cards would be mailed to us within two weeks. There was no charge to get new Social Security cards.
IMPORTANT: Be sure to apply for your new Social Security card before you get your new drivers license, because the Social Security people need to see both your old drivers license with your old name and your birth date on it, and your court-certified name-change order before they will issue a new Social Security card with your new name on it. If you make the mistake of getting your new drivers license before you get your new Social Security card, then you will be required to show the Social Security people some other official ID — not your birth certificate — that shows both your old name and your birth date. I don’t know about you, but my old drivers license was the only official ID I had that showed both of those pieces of information.
After we applied for our new Social Security cards, we went to our local drivers license office to get new drivers licenses. All we had to do was show them our old drivers licenses along with our court-certified name-change order. And of course, we had to pay for the new licenses, which they gave us right there, after taking new photos of us.
Once we had those two things changed, it was easier to change all of the others, since many of them wanted a certified copy of our name-change order from our local county along with our new drivers licenses and banks wanted to see our new Social Security cards, too. Our county charges about $3 for each certified copy of a name-change, so to save money, we took our original to a copy store and made color copies of it for about one-third of that price. The color copies bear the exact same non-embossed, red county seal and blue signature as the original certified name-change order, so everyone accepted them as if they were originals. Most companies changed our name in their records without charging a fee, but a few of them charged us a fee. Our mortgage company wanted to charge us a $100 fee to change our names in their records. My wife talked them into reducing their fee to $50.
It took several more months to mail letters and copies of court papers to our entire list of organizations, to notify them of the change — because we had to follow-up with several of them three or more times before they finally changed our names in their databases.
All in all, changing our names took a lot of work, it took several months, it caused us a lot of stress, and it cost us a total of around $500 in fees, postage, copy costs, etc. If we had hired an attorney it would have cost us all of that plus the attorney’s fees.
But, to us, it was all worth it.
Keep in mind that legally changing your name will not allow you to leave behind your debts, credit rating, legal obligations, criminal record, or even your abuser — there will always be public, legal records of your old name, your legal name change, and your new name, so all of those things will always “stay connected to you” in everyone’s databases, making it possible for anyone who’s willing to do the work, to eventually find you.
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