Some legal name changes are free, such as changing your last name when you take on a married name or obtain a divorce decree, but most require a court order. The minimum cost will be the charge for the court filing fee in your jurisdiction. If you hire an attorney, wish to change the name of a minor or require criminal screening, expect to pay more.
Name Change Process
If you are an adult without a criminal record, changing your name is a matter of filling out the name change forms required in your jurisdiction, publishing the name change request in a newspaper to inform creditors, and appearing in court, if required, for a hearing. While the exact procedures vary among jurisdictions, California is typical in requiring a signed petition, publication in a local newspaper for four consecutive weeks and, often, a court appearance.
Typical Name Change Costs
For an adult name change you undertake yourself, you must pay the small cost of copying the completed forms, the hefty court filing fees and newspaper publication fees. Court fees often amount to several hundred dollars, while newspaper publication fees vary widely. Court clerks often provide lists of acceptable newspapers, and it pays to call a few in advance to find out their prices.
In some states, you need to pay an additional fee for a certified copy of the legal document or decree changing your name, an official document that may be required to change the names on your driver's license with the DMV or to get a new passport showing the new name, as well as to update bank accounts and credit cards. The Social Security Administration will need the court order to issue a new social security card.
If you hire an attorney to do the work for you, your attorney fees may cost several hundred dollars an hour.
Minor's Name Change
More steps are required to change a child's name than an adult, and thus more fees may be involved. It is generally easiest and cheapest if both parents file the petition for change of name for the minor together; if this is not possible and you file alone, you must arrange for an adult (other than yourself) to personally hand a copy of the papers to the other parent. If you use a process server or sheriff to personally serve the papers, expect to pay a fee.
If the matter is disputed by the other parent, you might want legal help to fill out the documents and argue at the hearing; this will likely be billed by the hour. It is also possible that the court will require the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem in a minor name change contest which will add considerably to the cost.
Some states require a criminal background check before allowing adults to change their names legally. This step is intended to prevent criminals from creating a new identity to continue criminal activity. In some states, persons on parole and registered sex offenders cannot change their names. Name change applicants who are required to provide criminal background checks may be asked to submit fingerprints and pay additional fees.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.