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# 508 Changing or keeping your name or your child's name

mp3 #508 Keeping or Changing Your Name and Your Child's Name (mp3 file)


Family Law matters are very complex. Many who try to handle these matters on their own quickly find themselves overwhelmed and out of favor with the courts. Often times costs are cited as the reason for self representation. However, most people with assets and retirement plans stand to lose significant amounts of money, or worse, lose custody of their children if they are not properly represented. Continue here to be referred to an experienced and insured Family Law attorney:


This message will first tell you about a woman’s right to use her own name, and then will describe how anyone may legally change his or her name, or the name of a minor child.

First, if you are a woman who is getting married, California law permits you to keep using your maiden or birth name, or your former name. You do not have to change your last name to that of your husband, unless you .choose to do so. If you are already married, and have been using your husband's last name, you can still return to using your birth name or former name, if you so prefer.

As a married woman, you are entitled to obtain a credit card in either your birth name or your husband's last name, whichever you prefer. No business in California is allowed to refuse to do business with you, or to refuse to provide you with service, just because as a married woman you use your birth name or your former name instead of your husband's last name.

If you are a woman who is obtaining a dissolution or divorce, you may request the court which is granting your divorce to formally restore your birth name or former name, if you have been using your husband's last name. The court will grant your request, even if you have custody of a minor child whose name is different from your birth name or former name. You may also legally change your minor children's last names when you get a divorce, if you file a petition in court to change their names, and if the court grants your request.

Now we will talk about how anyone, man or woman, married or single, may change his or her name.

If you are an adult living in California, eighteen years of age or older, you may legally change all or part of your name without going to court, as long as you do not defraud anyone by changing your name. All you have to do is start regularly using your new name, and no other name. If you use, and are known by, your new name in all your business and personal relationships, then your new name becomes your legal name, without any special legal proceedings on your part. If you change your name in this way, you should of course notify all interested persons, businesses, and agencies, such as banks, creditors, employers, social security, department of motor vehicles, and the registrar of voters.

Although California law does not require you to go to court to change your name, California law does provide a procedure that permits you to go to court to change your name. The advantage to you is that there is then a legal record of your name change, and it is then easier to prove your new name at some later time, for such purposes as obtaining a passport to travel outside the United States. If you merely start using a new name, you can't get a passport in your new name, until you have been using your new name for at least two years.

If you wish to establish a legal record of your name change, you file a petition for a change of name, in the superior court of the county where you live. In your application, you include your place of birth, your current address, your present name, your proposed new name, your reason for changing your name, the names and addresses of your parents or nearest living relatives, and your signature. A legal notice of your request in published in a local newspaper once a week for at least 4 weeks.

The newspaper notice will include the date and time of the hearing on your name change request. Anyone interested in filing objections to your name change then has an opportunity to do so. If objections are filed which show to the court good reason why your name change should not be granted, the hearing will be held as scheduled, and the judge will hear testimony from you and the person or persons filing objections. The court will usually approve your name change request unless there is strong evidence that you are changing your name in order to defraud someone or take advantage of the legal rights of someone else who has the same name.

If no objections are filed to your name change request, the court may grant your name change without the need of a hearing. If the court determines not to grant your request for a name change, whether with or without a hearing, your name change petition will be dismissed, but the court has no power to prevent you from using any name you wish to use on your own.

If the court approves your petition, the court issues a judicial decree changing your name, and a certified copy of the court's decree must be filed within 30 days with the office of the secretary of state in Sacramento, where it is a matter of permanent public record.

Now what we have been saying so far applies only to name changes by adults, ages 18 and over. What about name changes for minor children?

Unlike adults, children have no common law right to start using a new name without going to court. And unlike adults, children may not themselves go to court to legally change their name. However, an adult who is a parent, guardian, near relative, or friend may apply to the court on behalf of the minor child.

At least one of the minor's parents must sign the petition, if a parent is living. If both parents are living, and the petition is signed by only one parent, the name and last known address of the parent who does not sign must be included on the petition, so the county clerk can inform the other parent of the scheduled court hearing.

As was stated previously, when a husband and wife are divorced, and if custody of their children is awarded to the wife, she may wish to ask the court to change her children's last names, either to her different last name, or to the last name of their new stepfather. However, the children's natural father has the right to object to such a change.

When a court decides such issues, the judge will consider only what is in the best interests of the minor child. In the past, California law gave a father, a primary right and preference for his children to bear his last name, even after divorce, and even when the mother had custody, and the children were living with her. But this rule was abolished in 1980, by the California Supreme Court, which ruled that the child's best interests will be the sole consideration, when parents go to court to dispute their child's last name.

Judges will first consider how long the child has used his present last name. If the child is very young, other factors may be more important, such as these:

--the effect of a name change on preserving the father-child relationship.

--the strength of the mother-child relationship.

--the identification of the child as part of a family unit.

--the embarrassment or discomfort that a child may experience, when he or she has a last name different from the rest of family.

--the effect of a child having his mother's last name, in supporting the mother-child relationship, especially when the mother goes by her birth-given last name, or when the father is the custodial parent.

The symbolic role that a last name, other than the natural father's may play in easing relations with a new family, will be balanced by the judge, against the importance of maintaining the child's relationship with his or her biological father.

The court will take these and other factors into consideration, when deciding what last name will be in the best interests of the child.

If a minor child is legally adopted by a stepfather, then the minor child will usually bear the last name of the adoptive father. However, it should be understood that a court-approved name change for a minor child is not the same as a step-parent adoption. A child’s name change to that of the stepfather does not by itself change the natural father’s duties or rights, such as child support and visitation.

When a minor child’s name is changed by a court degree, an application is made to the state registrar of vital statistics to establish a new birth certificate if the child was born in California. The birth certificate may also be changed if the child’s parent who has custody changes his or her own name by a court decree and the other parent is dead or is otherwise unavailable.

If you need legal advice or assistance in obtaining a name change for you or your minor child, or in opposing a name change, consult your attorney, or call your local lawyer’s referral service to obtain an attorney if you do not have one.

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