Ask An Attorney: Changing Your Name - KMOT.COM - Minot, ND - News, Weather, Sports

Ask An Attorney: Changing Your Name

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Can you change your legal name? And if so, how would you go about it?

  • As usual, very little in the way of specifics
  • I contacted the person to find out some facts
  • Because you have to have been a bona fide resident of your county for six months before you could start this process
  • Without the residency facts and other facts, I could only give a general answer

 

Before we get to whatever facts you got from the questioner, what's the general answer?

  • Little side trip here - you can go by any name you want if it's not done to decide others
  • But most people want to do it legally so they can get a new driver's license, social security card, that king of thing
  • We're not talking about "informal" name changes here
  • First thing that viewers should know is that, if you're going through a divorce, you can revert back to your pre-married name in the divorce paperwork
  • These name changes cases almost all refer to last names, not Christian names, by the way
  • No extra legal expense doing it in divorce paperwork

 

Does that happen a lot?

  • I would say in about half of the divorces I've handled, it does
  • Cheap and easy

 

If that's the case, why wouldn't a divorcing woman choose that route?

  • Typical reason is if there are children involved
  • Often, she doesn't want to have a different last name from her children
  • Can cause confusion for them, mostly
  • Schools, governmental authorities are pretty used to two-household situations for many students, so it tends to be mostly not to upset the children
  • Or sometimes, very amicable divorce, so she keeps the married name

 

You also mentioned that a woman changing her name in the divorce paperwork is the first thing that viewers should know. So, there's obviously more, especially if she chooses not to, or it's not a divorce situation?

  • Yes
  • ND has a specific statute as to how to do this through separate court action2
  • Can be, and usually is, simple and relatively inexpensive
  • Often just three legal documents

 

What is the process there?

  • Okay, let's start with the woman who sent in this question
  • As I said, I contacted her to get the facts
  • She's been here six months, and appears to fit the statutory requirements

 

This statute lays out what has to be done?

  • Absolutely correct
  • If you are an adult, your attorney would follow the statute in preparing the paperwork, and typically there's no problem
  • In fact, there are very few North Dakota Supreme Court cases law with fights about name changes, for two reasons

 

What reasons?

  • First, assuming you can meet the statutory requirements and the criminal background check, if you're a grownup, there is usually no one with standing to object to your changing your name
  • Second, our judges have a very great degree of discretion in these cases
  • If the statutory requirement "that there exists proper and reasonable cause for changing the name is met, the petition will usually be granted

 

So, before you get into the nuts and bolts of the process itself, how is "proper and reasonable cause" usually interpreted by the judge?

  • There again, the statute kind of tells us what would NOT be proper and reasonable
  • If the court should determine that the petition is made to defraud or mislead is the first one, and usually the major one

 

Why?

  • If the criminal background check or any other evidence indicates that this person is trying to evade their creditors - people to whom they owe money - the petition could be denied

 

But money judgments against this person wouldn't show up as crimes, would they?

  • No, I wouldn't expect so
  • But the attorney is expected to question the client pretty closely on that point
  • And the statute itself requires publication of a notice of the petition in the newspaper
  • Creditors, I think, routinely check for that kind of publication

 

What are the other things that might be found not to be "proper and reasonable?"

  • The other three things the judge is to determine are:                 
         * Whether the petition is made in good faith
        
         * Whether it would cause injury to an individual
         * Whether it would compromise public safety
  • The "good faith" part kind of ties in whether the petition might "defraud or mislead"
  • That usually pertains to creditors
  • But could run to a number of other things, I suppose, like a parent who has taken a child and kind of gone into hiding in another state
  • If she changes her last name, and the other parent doesn't know, he or she could have some trouble tracking their child down

Does that happen a lot?

  • Not in my practice, I guess
  • But you can see where people might try that; I'm sure some have done so
  • What are the odds that a dad in Florida would see a notice in a Bismarck paper that his wife or ex-wife is looking to change her last name, after all?

 

What is the actual process?

  • The client comes in, gives us the facts, including her reasons for wanting to do this
  • Often it's just something like, "This wasn't a friendly divorce, my ex has a new wife, and I just want my own name back"
  • We prepare a petition, signed under oath before a notary, asking for the name change and giving the reasons
  • Then two things happen next

What two things?

  • The court has to determine whether this petitioner has a criminal history either here or in any other state
  • Usually they just automatically order a criminal history records check
  • The petitioner has to pay for that check, by the way

 

Who does that records check?

  • North Dakota's Bureau of Criminal Investigation
  • The client gives two sets of fingerprints, anything else BCI may ask her to do, and a statement as to whether she's ever been convicted of a crime

 

And if that comes back clean, what's the second thing you mentioned?

  • You publish notice of the petition in the newspaper in all cases
  • Exception if the court finds that the petitioner has been a victim of domestic violence - no publication there, to protect her
  • Only one publication
  • 30 days after publication, if nobody files an objection and seeks a hearing, the court issues an order for the name change

 

What if there IS a criminal history?

  • An order changing her name could still be found to be proper
  • But the court then reports the name change to BCI
  • That way, it will show up if any other state is looking for a specific suspect in a case
  • There are a couple of interesting Supreme Court cases, including one where a man tried to change his name to the number "1069"

 

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