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Family law Newsletter - Marital Name Changes

Jan. 9, 2020

At common law, husbands or wives may change their surname to that of their spouse without a legal proceeding. Presently, most states also have statutes that contain requirements for a legally recognized name change. A married individual, who wishes to change his or her last name, must abide by the law in his or her jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction has specific requirements and procedures to abide by. By following such procedures, he or she will be able to have his or her last name legally changed by the state and at common law.

Even though statutes supply conditions for a legally recognized name change, one spouse changing his or her name is not usually required by law. A wife taking her husband's surname is a custom or tradition and not mandatory in most states. A minority of jurisdictions contain laws requiring a wife to take her husbands surname upon marriage. However, the majority of states (that have laws regarding name changes) permit married individuals to use their surname, their spouses' surname, a hyphenated surname made up of each spouse's last name or a combination of the two surnames.

In states that have laws regarding name changes, a couple will find out their options when they are applying for their marriage license. Most commonly, statutory options are an individual keeping his or her birth surname, taking his or her spouse's surname or hyphenating the two. Now, more states are recognizing less common options for creating legal marital surnames. Couples may use a portion of each surname to create a new one or take a new surname for themselves. Additionally, either spouse may change his or her name. The wife does not have to be the one to change her name, nor does the couple have to be of the same gender to change their marital surnames.

Accordingly, if an individual (or couple) would like to change his or her surname upon marriage, he or she should make sure to know the specific laws in their state. Jurisdictions have specific procedures for an individual to legally change his or her surname. It is typically done by an application that must be filed with the court. The application contains basic information and sometimes the individual must provide an answer to why they wish to change their name. The court usually approves the name change without issue. However, approval of a name change application is not guaranteed. If there is evidence of fraud or the court has concerns that the change may harm others, there may be a hearing to allow the individual applying for the name change to make his or her case before the court. If the individual cannot provide evidence refuting fraud or harm to others, the application will be denied. State procedures regarding name changes may vary from state-to-state, it is important to know what the law is in your state and the specific requirements that you must abide by.

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