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Legal How-To: Taking Your Wife's Last Name

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

For husbands, taking your wife's last name may be non-traditional, but it can also be legally difficult.

Case in point: a Florida man who was accused of fraud for adopting his wife's last name, though the state's DMV later apologized and allowed him to obtain a new driver's license.

Could a similar predicament happen to you? Possibly. Here's what you need to know about taking your wife's last name:

Most States Lack Gender-Equal Name Change Laws

A woman taking her husband's name when she marries is hardly news, and most states have made it easy for a woman to do so.

In Texas and many other states, a copy of the marriage certificate typically will be accepted as legal documentation of a name change. The county registrar will often issue copies of a valid marriage license for a small fee, allowing couples to protect their original license as a keepsake.

However, using your marriage license for a name change is mostly available for women; only a handful of states will allow men to do the same. According to the lawyer for the Florida man who was accused of fraud, nine states -- California, New York, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Iowa, Georgia and North Dakota -- currently have laws that specifically allow a man to change his name upon marriage.

Changing Your Name Regardless

Even though it may be more expensive, anyone can choose to take his or her wife's last name by petitioning for a legal name change. Each state and local court may have a different form for the petition, and yes, there will be filing fees.

Like with any name change, the court may ask for a reason for your name change (i.e., you're getting married) or question whether the old name is associated with any debt or criminal liability. Some states also require publication in a newspaper of your intent to change your name.

Agencies to Contact After a Name Change

Once you have legally changed your last name to your wife's, you'll need to contact the following agencies:

  • Social Security Administration. Obtain a Social Security Card with your correct name in order to obtain most other forms of ID. It's also free.
  • DMV. Some states prefer you to notify the DMV within a month of a legal name change.
  • Passport office. You'll need a new passport too, which will serve as sufficient identification for most employers, banks, schools, post offices, and utility companies.

Need More Help?

Taking your wife's last name may be difficult, but it is legal. If you're facing problems with your name change, or if you'd rather have a professional handle the matter for you, contact an experienced family law attorney near you.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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