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What’s in a Name?

The How-Tos of Changing Yours

When we first moved to Virginia, my husband changed his name. We had been married for a little while with our respective last names and, since having a child, we made the family decision that we’d like to have the same last name. I told him I was open to taking his last name, and we even considered making up a new last name that we would all take. Our last few weeks in Colorado were filled with creative campaigning from our friends. Some lobbied for “Holliday,” while others pushed for “Dre” so that my husband, a dentist could be, well, you get the picture. Then, one morning, my husband simply said that he want to be a Hall. “I love your last name, I love you, and I just want to take your last name.” And so, now, we’re all Halls.

One reason we decided to wait until our move is that changing a name in Virginia is a relatively straightforward and simple process. Here’s what you need to know.

Name Change Based on Marriage.
Generally, Virginia allows for a streamlined change of name as a result of marriage. A certified copy of the marriage record can be used as evidence of a name change through the social security administration first, and, once that’s in possession, DMV records can be updated. The Virginia State Bar recommends that husbands in opposite-sex marriages also change their names through the statutory method, detailed below. And although Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled unconstitutional, courts are still speaking on the matter, so same-sex couples wishing to change last names based on marriage should currently use the statutory method as well, in order to ensure completion and recognition by all branches of state government. Finally, name changes may be requested due to divorce, so speak with your family law attorney to ensure that the correct procedure is followed.

Adult Name Change Based on Statute.
Virginia’s laws allow adults to change their first and/or last names to names of their choosing. Individuals must submit a simple petition to the Circuit Court in the Virginia county or city of residence and pay minimal filing fees, which are generally well under $100. As long as the name change is not sought for fraudulent purposes or would otherwise infringe upon the rights of others, the law requires that the court grant the petition. Examples of prohibited reasons include evading the criminal justice system or creditors. Personal reasons, such as gender-transition or not wanting to have a family last name, are not required; merely, the individual seeking a name change must not be engaging in fraud or infringing upon the rights of others. Once approved, the individual will receive a name-change decree, which can then be used to complete the name change with the Social Security Administration, the DMV, bank accounts, etc.

Name Change of a Minor.
Parents may petition the court for a name change of a minor child, but if only one parent does so, the other has a legal right to object to the name change. Ultimately, a judge will decide, with the best interests of the child being the guiding factor.

A straightforward name change is something that can be done without retaining a lawyer, but if the petition is denied, you have a complex situation, or if you otherwise desire, consider consulting an attorney. My husband actually did his name change without any assistance from me. So much for having a lawyer in the family!

Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. Through Legal Ease in RFM, she contributed articles about family law, legislation, and other legal issues for four years until she moved out of the area with her family in 2014.
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