Your name follows you around, from your birth certificate and driver's license, to your credit cards and social media accounts. From a legal perspective, a lot happens "in" your name. You pay taxes in your name. Answer traffic tickets in your name. Receive government aid or benefits. It's been with you since you were born and is a core part of who you are.
But there may come a time in life when it's time to change it. This article covers how to change your name in New Jersey. There are a few different paths through the Garden State's legal jungle, so we'll cover how to get through it, including:
- The best way to change your name;
- What paperwork to file with government agencies; and
- How to start using your new name.
1. Identify and Follow the Correct New Jersey Legal Name Change Process
Most name changes happen for two reasons: because someone's getting married and wants to take their spouse's name, or because there's a divorce happening and the sound of an ex-spouse's last name isn't all that appealing anymore. There's also a longer legal process for changing a name, for whatever reason, open to everyone but requiring a visit down to the local court.
Easily the most common time to change your name is when getting married. It also happens to be the most streamlined process. Like many states, New Jersey lets you take a new name when applying for a marriage certificate. Fill in your new name, and when the valid marriage certificate is issued, it serves as proof of your name change. You can use it as a legal document to make changes to your Social Security card and driver's license (more on this below).
States 'certify' a marriage and 'grant' a divorce. So changing your name during divorce, unsurprisingly, also involves some legal work. But while divorce can be acrimonious, messy, long, and painful, the name change part of it doesn't need to be. New Jersey permits a court handling a divorce suit to change either party's name at the same time. This includes going back to a former name from before the marriage and taking a new name altogether.
Petition for a Change of Name
For everything else, there's the name change petition process. New Jersey allows you to file a petition in the local Superior Court. An affidavit, containing personal information such as your name, date of birth, Social Security number, and any criminal history, is required as well. Then the name change process begins. You can expect to:
- Publish notice of your name change in a local newspaper at least two weeks before going to court;
- Notify interested parties that you intent to change your name, and submit proof of this to the court;
- Go to court and convince a judge to change your name;
- If successful, send copies of the final judgment to the Department of Treasury and the Registrar of Vital Statistics.
New Jersey requires the sworn affidavit submitted state that a petitioner is not trying to avoid criminal prosecution or credits, and not trying to commit a fraud. It's also a crime to knowingly give false information when filing for a change of name. And once your name is changed, you have to go by that name and no other. You should also know a name change won't hinder lawsuits filed against you in your old name.
When a court is satisfied, it can grant your petition and issue a judgment authorizing you to change your name. That's your proof of a legal name change, just like a marriage certificate or divorce decree.
2. File the Appropriate Paperwork with Government Agencies
Once you have legal proof of a name change, use it to update your official documents and records. You need to update your driver's license within two weeks of a name change under New Jersey law. This will give you a current form of identification that can be used in turn to update other records. You should also apply to update your Social Security card at your local Social Security office. Voting registrations, birth certificates, and other government-issued documents should be updated as well.
3. Start Using Your New Name
Once you've changed your name, start telling people about it. Your family might want to update estate planning document. Friends and neighbors might want to change emergency contact information. Banks, businesses, utilities, and employers will want to update their records as well. You should also tend to your social media presence, including email accounts, online profiles, and anything else out there in the ether.
Get the Forms You Need in New Jersey
What's a New Jerseyan to do? Fortunately, we can help you there. FindLaw's prepared name change forms are affordable and ready to use. Pass through the legal hoops yourself, without needing an attorney, and avoid the hassle of trying to do it yourself from scratch.