Why Change Your Name?
There are many reasons why you might wish to change your name. For example, you may have become known by a name that is not on your birth certificate, or you may simply decide that you no longer want to be known by a name that appears on your official legal documents. In general, you may adopt the use of a new name at any time without going through a legal proceeding. However, if the name that you adopt does not match that on your official documents, it is best to change your name legally. This is especially important in light of the heightened security practices in place since 9/11. In addition, if you get divorced or dissolve a civil union, you can legally change your name in the course of the divorce case.
This article will also explain what you must do if you want to change your child’s name.
How do I change my name?
You may apply to the court at any time for a court order to change your name. In considering a request for a name change, the main concern of the court is that you are not asking to change your name in order to commit fraud or avoid the consequences of a pending legal action. Although most requests for name changes are granted without question, you should explain in your application why you want to change your name.
To get a court order giving you permission to change your name, you must file a complaint for name change in the Law Division of the Superior Court. To begin the process of having the court consider your case, you must give the court clerk the necessary forms and a filing fee of $200. If you cannot afford the filing fee, you may apply to the court to be allowed to file without the fee.
The documents that you must file are:
- Civil Case Information Statement. This summarizes your case for the court.
- Verified Complaint for Name Change and Certification. The complaint tells the court what your name is, what name you want to change it to, why you want it changed, and whether or not you have ever been convicted of a crime or have criminal charges pending against you. In the certification attached to the complaint, you certify or swear that all information in the complaint is true to the best of your knowledge. It is important to include only accurate, truthful information in any documents that you file with the court. If you knowingly misrepresent a fact to the court, you may be charged with a crime of the fourth degree.
- Order Fixing Date of Hearing. You leave this document partially blank when you file it with the clerk. A judge then reviews it, completes it, and sends it back to you with directions to come back to court to have your case heard on a date that is 30 days or more from the date that the judge signs the order. The judge will also direct in the order that you publish notice of this hearing date in a specific newspaper.
What should I do if I have been convicted of a crime or have criminal charges pending against me?
If you have ever been convicted of a crime, you must send copies of the Verified Complaint and Certification and Order Fixing Date of Hearing to the prosecutor of the county where you were convicted. If you have criminal charges pending against you, you must send these documents to the prosecutor of the county where the criminal matter will be heard. You can find a list of county prosecutors and telephone numbers below.
If the charges against you were initiated by the Division of Criminal Justice in Trenton, you must send a copy of the documents to the director of the Division of Criminal Justice. The address is:
Director of Criminal Justice
R. J. Hughes Complex
25 W. Market Street
P.O. Box 085
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0085
Send the forms by certified mail and request a return receipt to prove that they were received. These documents must be sent 20 days or more before the hearing date. This is to allow the prosecutor or the director of Criminal Justice to file objections to your request to change your name. Objections will be filed if these individuals feel that your reason for changing your name is to avoid creditors, obstruct a criminal prosecution, or to perpetrate a criminal or civil fraud.
Are there special notice requirements for changing a child’s name?
The procedure for filing for a name change for a child under the age of 18 is almost the same as that for an adult, with one important difference. If only one of the child’s parents is filing the application on behalf of a child and the child’s other parent does not live with the child, the parent filing the application must also send copies of the Verified Complaint and Certification and Order Fixing Date of Hearing to the child’s other birth parent or adopted parent. The documents must be sent to the other parent’s last known address 20 days or more before the hearing date. The documents should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested. This requirement gives the child's other parent an opportunity to file objections to a request to change the child’s name if he or she feels that to do so would not be good for the child. As with an adult name change application, if your child has ever been convicted of a crime or has criminal charges pending against him or her, you must also send a copy of each of the required documents to the prosecutor in the county where your child was convicted or has criminal charges pending against him or her.
How do I publish notice of my name change in the newspaper?
You will receive back from the court the Order Fixing Date of Hearing with a designated hearing date named by the judge in that order. You must publish notice of the hearing date in a newspaper so that anyone who might object to the name change has an opportunity to challenge it. You should immediately send a copy of the order to the newspaper named in the order. The newspaper must publish the notice of the hearing date at least once within the two weeks before the date of the hearing. After the newspaper publishes notice of the hearing date, you will receive a copy of an Affidavit of Publication. The Affidavit of Publication is a sworn statement made by the newspaper stating that the newspaper has published the information in the court order.
How do I prove that I have given notice to the required people?
After you have mailed copies of documents to the necessary people and to the newspaper, you must file a Proof of Mailing with the court. The Proof of Mailing is a document that states that you mailed your documents to a specific person on a specific date. You must let the court know that you sent the documents to each person to whom you are required to send them. In the Proof of Mailing, you also swear that all of the statements that you are making are true. You should also attach the green return receipt card(s) that you get back from the post office to show the court that the documents you sent were received by the person(s) to whom you sent them.
What will happen on the date of the hearing?
On the date of the hearing, you must go to court at the time ordered in the Order Fixing Date of Hearing. Bring with you the Affidavit of Publication and the Form of Judgment. The Form of Judgment should be filled out with the docket number, your date of birth, and your Social Security number. You must leave some blanks that will be filled in by the judge at the close of the hearing.
At the hearing, the judge will look at your papers and see if there are any objections to your request for a name change. If any of the people who have been given notice of your name change application file objections to the application, the court will ask you to answer questions about the objections. You must answer these questions honestly. If you lie about the answers to these questions, you can be charged with a fourth-degree crime.
The judge will probably sign the order if there are no objections to your application, and the judge is satisfied that the name change is reasonable and you are not asking to change your name or your minor child’s name to avoid creditors, obstruct criminal prosecution, or to perpetrate a criminal or civil fraud. The order will allow you to assume the new name after 30 days from the date of the hearing.
How do I change my child’s name?
The court first reviews the documents to determine that you are not asking for permission to change the child’s name in order to commit a criminal or civil fraud. If the other parent has not objected, the court will presume that the name change is in the child’s best interests. If the other parent objects, you must provide evidence that shows the judge that the requested name change is in the child’s best interests. The other parent can file an Answer or a Certification in Opposition to the Complaint. To evaluate whether a name change is in a child’s best interests, the court examines several factors, including the length of time that the child has used his or her current name; the child’s identification as part of a family unit; the potential anxiety, embarrassment, or discomfort that the child might experience if the child has a surname different from that of the custodial parent; and, if the child is old enough to express it, the child’s preference. There is no rule as to what names are in a child’s best interests and what names are not. Instead, the court carefully considers the individual circumstances of every case concerning a minor child.
If the judge thinks your request for a name change on behalf of your minor child is in the child’s best interests and is reasonable, he or she will generally sign the order allowing the child to assume the new name 30 days after the date of the hearing.
What should I do after the hearing?
Get certified copies of the Final Judgment. After the hearing, it is important to get a certified copy of the Final Judgment before you leave the court. A certified copy has a raised seal. There is no charge for the first certified copy. For additional copies, the court will charge you $5 per copy. You will need at least four certified copies of the order.
Publish the Final Judgment in the newspaper again. You must again publish a copy of the Final Judgment in a newspaper within 20 days after the date that the judgment was signed. You will receive another Affidavit of Publication from the newspaper. Again, the Affidavit of Publication is a sworn statement made by the newspaper stating that the newspaper has published a copy of the Final Judgment changing your name or your child’s name.
Deliver a copy of the Final Judgment to various government agencies and offices. After the Final Judgment is entered, you are required to deliver a certified copy to the following offices:
- The Department of the Treasury. You must get a copy of the Final Judgment to this department within 45 days after the date of the Judgment. You may mail the Judgment to this office. Be sure to include a check or money order payable to the Treasurer, State of New Jersey in the amount of $50. For a certified copy of the filing, an additional fee of $25 is required. The original decree will be returned to you. For more information, visit File Legal Name Changes (from The Department of the Treasury).
Department of the Treasury
New Jersey Division of Revenue
Judgment Name Change Unit
P.O. Box 453
Trenton, New Jersey 08646
- The Bureau of Vital Statistics in the state in which you were born. You may mail the Final Judgment to this office. If you were born in another state that state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics will be located in the capitol of that state. You must contact that office to find out what to do to change your birth or other records. If you were born in New Jersey, the address is:
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Record Modification Unit
State of New Jersey
P.O. Box 370
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0370
Include a letter identifying the vital record to be corrected; the name as currently reported in the vital record that you are changing; the exact date and place where the birth, marriage, adoption, civil union, or domestic partnership occurred; and, in the case of a birth record, the mother’s maiden name and father’s name if listed on that vital record. You must also include a check or money order in the amount of $27 made payable to Treasurer, State of New Jersey. This fee includes one certified copy of the corrected record. For additional information about vital records, visit Vital Records in New Jersey (from The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) or call (609) 292-4087.
- The Motor Vehicles Commission. If you are a licensed driver or a registered owner of a motor vehicle, or if you possess a handicapped or non-driver identification card, you must present a certified copy of the Final Judgment in person at any New Jersey Motor Vehicle Agency or Regional Service Center. You must do this within two weeks of the date of the date of the Final Judgment. Visit the MVC Web site, for additional information, including the list of acceptable documents to satisfy the MVC identification requirements.
Notify other agencies or offices and change other official documents. You should also think about changing other official documents that have your former name on them. For instance, you may want to send a copy of your Final Judgment to the Social Security Administration, your bank, or the Board of Social Services/welfare office (if you are receiving welfare) and any other agencies with which you are involved, in order to get new identification or to have your name put on the records. Other documents that you may want to change include your will; your advanced directive for health care (living will); your advanced directive for mental health care; insurance polices; credit card accounts; and your certificate of admission to practice, if you are an attorney or other professional.
Note: If someone has sued you under your former name to recover money that you owe them, you will still be liable even though your name is now different from the name listed on the lawsuit.
Other Ways to Change Your Name
- Divorce/Dissolution of a Civil Union. If you want to take back your maiden name or assume any other surname, including a name that you have never used, this can be done as part of a divorce or dissolution action.
- Adoption. A child who is adopted will be known by the name proposed in the adoption complaint.
- Parents marry after child is born. If the child is born out of wedlock and the child’s parents later marry or enter into a civil union, the parents may change the child’s surname by presenting proof of the marriage or civil union to the State Registrar’s Office.
- Naturalization. A person who becomes a United States citizen can assume a new name by completing a name change request as a part of the naturalization. Applications for naturalization are often considered and granted without the applicant ever appearing before a judge in court. However, if you are an applicant for naturalization and you want to change your name as a part of the naturalization process, you must participate in an oath ceremony (a court-administered naturalization ceremony before a judge). The decision about whether or not to allow a name change as a part of the oath ceremony is left up to the immigration judge presiding over that ceremony. If the judge allows the name change, a decree (court order) will be issued changing the name, and the immigration court will send a copy of the court order to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with the other required notices. Without a court order, however, USCIS does not have any power to change the applicant’s name on its own.
How can I get a pro se name change packet?
If you have access to the Internet, you may access the necessary forms at Forms and Kits for Self Represented Litigants (Pro Se) (from The New Jersey Judiciary). Look for the forms under the “Civil Matters” section. They are called “How to Ask the Court to Change Your Name” and “How to Ask the Court to Change Your Minor Child’s Name (Under the Age of 18).” You may print them out and use them to file your own application for a name change.
Civil Division Managers
- Directory of Civil Division Offices (from the NJ Courts online) - A list of addresses and phone numbers for Civil Division Managers in every courthouse. You must send your papers to the county where you are filing your case. Use this list of addresses to find the appropriate Superior Court to file your papers.
This article appeared in the July-August 2007 edition of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.
This information last reviewed 3/15/10.