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How Can a Person Legally Change Their Name in a Family Law Case?

Posted on in Divorce

shutterstock_286104224.jpgFor many people, divorce represents a fresh start that will allow them to close a chapter in their lives and move on from a relationship that was not working. Part of moving forward following a divorce may include changing a person’s last name and reverting to their maiden name or the name that had used before getting married. There are also a variety of other situations where name changes may be appropriate for those who are involved in family law cases. By understanding the requirements for legally changing a person’s name, those who are looking for a fresh start or who wish to make changes in their lives can follow the correct procedures and avoid any complications that may affect them.

At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, we understand the complex legal issues that can affect people who are going through the divorce process or who are involved in other types of family law matters. While changing a person’s name may seem like an afterthought in many of these cases, taking steps to do so at the right times can help a person avoid potential complications. We can provide guidance on the procedures that must be followed in these cases, and we can also help address and resolve any complications that may arise.

Simple Name Changes Following Marriage or Divorce

Changing a person’s name is generally an easy process when a couple gets married. A valid marriage certificate will allow either spouse to change their last name, and they can generally do so by updating their information at their local Social Security office.

Divorce may also allow for a quick and easy name change, such as when a person wishes to stop using their ex-spouse’s last name and resume the name they had before they were married. If a couple’s divorce decree states that one or both spouses will be allowed to change their name following the dissolution of the couple’s marriage, a person will generally be able to update their information through Social Security and ensure that these changes are reflected on other government records.

Issues That May Make a Name Change More Complicated

In some situations, additional procedures may need to be completed to legally change a person’s name. If a divorce decree did not provide for a name change, or if a person wishes to change their name in other circumstances, they will need to file a request for a name change in court. 

Before they can legally change their name, a person must have resided in the state of Illinois for at least six months. Certain types of criminal convictions will prevent a person from changing their name, and these offenses include identity theft, criminal sexual abuse in which the victim was under the age of 18, sexual exploitation of a child, indecent solicitation of a child or adult, or any other offense in Illinois or another state that would require a person to register as a sex offender. Other types of felony convictions will also make a person ineligible for a name change until 10 years after they completed their sentence. However, if a person is pardoned after being convicted of one of the offenses listed above, they will be allowed to request a name change.

In addition to filing a petition requesting a name change, a person will typically also be required to publish notice of their request in a newspaper in their county or, if their county has no newspaper, another newspaper published in Illinois. The notice will state the court date for the request for name change, and it must be published once a week for three weeks. The first publication of the notice must appear in a newspaper at least six weeks before the court date for the name change request. If a person is filing a request following their divorce to return to their former name, and their divorce decree did not give them permission to change their name, the requirement for a publication notice will be waived.

At their court date, a person will be required to provide documentation showing that they are eligible for a name change and that they have met all of the necessary requirements. If a judge believes that there is no reason why the request should be denied, they will issue a court order that will legally change the person’s name.

Special Circumstances in Cases Involving Domestic Violence

In some cases, a spouse or other family members who have escaped an abusive situation may be concerned about their safety when applying for a name change. A person who has been the victim of domestic violence, other forms of abuse, stalking, or harassment may have taken steps to avoid contact with their abuser and ensure that they will be safe from harm. They may be concerned that publishing a public notice that they plan to change their name will give their abuser information about where they are currently living, while also possibly provoking the abuser into acting in a way that would endanger the safety of the person or their family members. 

Fortunately, Illinois law recognizes the potential safety issues that may affect victims of domestic abuse, and it provides for exceptions to certain requirements in these types of name change cases. Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or discrimination may apply to waive their requirement to publish notice of a name change request in a newspaper. These requirements may be waived if a person currently has or has previously had an order of protection, including a stalking no-contact order or a protective order issued as part of a criminal case. Waivers may also be requested if a person is or has been listed as a protected person in the conditions of bail following an abuser’s criminal arrest or if they can demonstrate that they are at risk of harm or discrimination.

Name Changes for Children

While most legal name changes will involve an adult requesting to change their own name, there are some situations where parents may wish to change their children’s names. While children will usually retain their last name following their parents’ divorce, a parent who has escaped an abusive situation along with their child may wish to change their child’s name along with their own. Name changes for children may also be appropriate in situations where a child no longer has a relationship with one parent or when a child is adopted by a step-parent.

A parent may request a name change for a minor child under the age of 18 because they believe that this would be in the child’s best interests. A step-parent may also request a name change for a child if the child has lived in their home with their family for at least three years and has been recognized as the step-parent’s adopted child. The procedures for requesting a name change for a child are similar to those followed when requesting a name change for an adult. Notice of a name change request will need to be provided to the child’s biological parents (unless a parent’s parental rights have been terminated), their adoptive parents, a person other than the child’s biological parent who was married to the child’s mother when the child was conceived and/or born, and any other parties who have physical custody rights to the child. The requirement to notify a parent or other parties and the requirement to publish notice of the name change request in a newspaper may be waived if a parent believes that doing so would put the child at risk of harm.

When determining whether a name change would be in a child’s best interests, a judge may consider the following factors:

  • The wishes of the child’s parents and anyone else who has physical custody (parenting time) of the child.

  • The wishes of the child. If necessary, a judge may interview the child in the judge’s chambers to gain a full understanding of the reasons why the child wishes to have their name changed, and a transcript of this interview will be included in the record of the case.

  • The child’s relationships with their parents or step-parents, as well as siblings, step-siblings, and any other family members who share their home or are involved in their lives.

  • How well the child has adjusted to living in their home and community and attending their school and how a name change may play a role in this adjustment.

In a court hearing for a name change request for a child, the parent or person requesting the name change will be required to provide documentation that they have met all requirements for a name change as well as evidence showing why the name change is necessary. If the child’s other parent or another person who has physical custody objects to the name change, they may present evidence to support their arguments. Both sides may call and question witnesses, such as family members or others who can provide insight into the child’s relationship with family members or other issues that may affect them. After considering the evidence, witness testimonies, and arguments made by both sides, the judge will decide whether to grant or deny the name change request.

Updating Legal Documents and Other Information Following a Name Change

After a request for a name change is granted, a person can begin using their new name, and they will also need to update multiple types of documents and records to ensure that their name is correct. These include their:

  • Social Security card

  • Driver’s license

  • Passport

  • Voter registration information

  • Other government ID cards

Once legal identification documents have been updated, a person will also need to make changes to other types of records. They will need to contact financial institutions to update the name on their bank accounts, as well as on their credit cards or other loans. Name changes will also need to be made for retirement accounts a person owns, such as a 401(k) or IRA. Insurance policies will also need to be updated, including life insurance policies that name the person as a beneficiary. Other documents that may need to be updated include lease agreements, the deed to a home, or the title to a car. A name change may also need to be provided to utility companies or other service providers.

Contact Our DuPage County Name Change Lawyers

While changing your name can sometimes be a simple process, there are some situations where you may need to meet multiple legal requirements before your name can be changed. During your divorce, our lawyers can make sure you will have the ability to change your name easily once your marriage has been dissolved. If necessary, we can help you request name changes for yourself or your children in other circumstances, and we will make sure you meet all of your legal requirements while helping you demonstrate to the court that the name change is necessary. To get help with name changes or other matters related to divorce, adoption, or domestic violence, contact our Elmhurst family law attorneys at 312-605-4041.

Sources:

https://www.illinoiscourts.gov/forms/approved-forms/forms-approved-forms-circuit-court/name-change

https://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Resources/b035f24b-78d9-4bfc-ab2d-56e0eda8a612/Name_Change_Adult_How_to.pdf

https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=073500050K21-101

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