Name Change

The law has strict requirements regarding the use of names.

Everyone is given a name at birth, and that name becomes the person's legal identification once it is recorded on a birth certificate. A name can be changed by various methods.

The most obvious change of name occurs when a person marries. By custom, not law, a woman may assume her husband's last name. While birth records are not changed after marriage, but other records such as Social Security, Driver's License, and Voter Registration are amended to reflect the change in marital status. There is no law requiring a woman to take her husband's name.

Once a divorce is filed, a woman can legally resume use of a prior or maiden name by filing a Notice with the Clerk of Records. There is a minimal filing fee, and it is usually not necessary to obtain the services of a lawyer to file this notice.

A minor child's name can be legally changed through adoption. For example, if a new spouse adopts his or her spouse's child by a prior marriage, a Court can formally change the child's name to that of the new parent. The Pennsylvania Department of Vital Records will then issue a corrected Birth Certificate reflecting the child's new legal name.

For other situations, formal change of name procedure is outlined by Pennsylvania laws which require a court hearing, and approval of the new name by a Judge. A person can select any name he or she chooses, provided it is not obscene, slanderous, fraudulent to creditors, or otherwise unacceptable to society. The Court has broad discretion to approve or disapprove names. A parent can also use this method to change a child's name without formal adoption, but the other parent must be notified.

A legal name change begins by the filing of a Petition with the local Court. The Court sets a time and date for a hearing, and the applicant must publish his or her intention to change name one time in the local newspaper, and one time in the Legal Journal of the County. Prior to the Court hearing, a search is made of the courthouse records for any liens or judgments against the person. A hearing is held before a Judge, at which time the applicant must state his or her reasons. If approved, the Judge will then enter a written Decree authorizing the change of name. Thereafter, the person will be known by the new name and all records will be changed.

In certain limited cases, a Birth Certificate can be changed without Court proceedings. For example, a child's last name can be changed to reflect the name of a natural father if the child was given the mother's maiden name at birth. However, all parties must agree.

Most lawyers will charge by the hour for a name change. The total cost will vary, depending on the lawyer's hourly rate, and the amount of time he or she must spend. In addition, there are various Court costs and publication expenses. The applicant may also have to obtain fingerprints or other clearances.  8/11

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