Changing Your Legal Name in New Jersey
Names changed through marriage do not require a visit to a lawyer or a courtroom. Your marriage license is generally all that’s needed. If you’re getting divorced, you can generally request that the judge handling your divorce formally restore your old name.
What if you change your name for religious reasons? Or, what if you simply don’t like your name?
The procedure is a bit more complicated if you apply to a court to change your name for reasons other than marriage or divorce. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Judges have broad discretion in granting name changes. So, unless you’re attempting to change your name for an improper purpose, your name change will likely be granted. What’s an improper purpose? You cannot change your name for a fraudulent, criminal, or illegitimate purpose, like avoiding creditors or prosecution.
- You can generally change your name to anything you want. In one New Jersey case, the court allowed Rosa Linda Ferner to change her name to “Koriander”. That’s right … just “Koriander”. The court allowed this because it was determined that Ms. Ferner’s- excuse me- Koriander’s request was not for fraudulent or criminal purposes.
- A judge cannot deny your name change based simply on personal preferences. So, even if the judge hates the name Koriander, that cannot be a factor in whether the name change is granted. However, judges do have discretion. Even if a name change is not requested for an improper purpose, it may still be denied if the name is “bizarre, unduly lengthy, ridiculous, or offensive to common decency and good taste.”
What if you are looking to change your child’s name?
In the case of Emma v. Evans, the parties had two children, who were both given their father’s surname, “Emma”, at birth. The parties divorced and the mother was named primary residential parent of the children. After the divorce, the mother began hyphenating her children’s names on medical and school records as “Evans-Emma.” She then asked a court to allow her to change the children’s surname to her last name, “Evans”.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that in order to change a child’s surname, a “best interests of the child” standard applies. Many factors are taken into account in determining which surname suits the best interests of the child including the length of time the child has used the surname, identification of the child with a particular family unit, the potential anxiety or embarrassment which may result from the name change, the child’s preference, etc.
This “best interests of the child” standard represents a change in the law. Previously, although Courts still used the “best interests of the child” standard in surname disputes, the primary custodial parent was entitled to a presumption that his or her choice of name was in the best interests of the child. Emma v. Evans has removed that presumption in favor of the primary custodial parent.