In Massachusetts, filing a name change for minors goes through the probate court in the county of a child's birth or in a juvenile court if the minor is already part of a proceeding. The parents or legal guardians of children (minors under 18 years of age) will file the paperwork after obtaining a name change form from their local probate court clerk's office.
Circumstances of a Child's Name Change
A minor's legal name change in Massachusetts typically occurs in one of three ways:
- When adoption of the minor takes place, adoptive parents will take part in a hearing before a judge who considers their adoption petition. If the judge approves the adoption, they may also approve the minor's name change.
- As the result of a parentage judgment, which includes an order for the minor's name change.
- Parents or guardians can file a petition to change a minor child's name. If they can't agree on the name, the court will decide for them based on what's in the child's best interest. A minor 12 or older must agree to the name change.
Filing for a minor's name change usually takes place at the county probate and family court location of the child's residence. If a person wishes to file the name change of a minor in a pending proceeding, that would take place in a county juvenile court location of residence.
Filing the Name Change
Minors are the petitioners when filing for a name change, but their parents or legal guardians will file the name change petition on their behalf with the court. A parent or legal guardian seeking a name change for a minor must notify any parent or guardian who hasn't approved the name change petition.
A separate name change petition is not needed if a parent or legal guardian is going through the adoption process and wants to change the minor's name, or the parental judgment includes an Order to Amend Birth Certificate.
Forms Needed for a Child's Name Change
When filing for a minor's name change, a parent guardian must show the certain documents:
- Petition for Change of Name of Minor.
- A certified copy of the minor's long-form birth certificate, which the parent or guardian can find at the state Registry of Vital Records or from the municipality of the minor's birth. Non-English language birth certificates must include a copy translated into English and signed by a professional interpreter.
- A Court Activity Record Information (CARI) and Warrant Management System (WMS) Release Request form (CJP 34) for minors aged 12 and up. After the parent or legal guardian files the petition, the court's probation department conducts a CARI and WMS check on a minor who is in this age group.
Documents Needed for Change of Name
Parents and legal guardians may also need:
- Certified copy of a name change that occurred before the name change court order.
- Minor's notarized approval if 12 and older.
- Parent or guardian's death certificate, if applicable.
- Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceedings form.
- Assent to Petition to Change Name of Minor (CJP 30) form if the parent or guardian of the minor wants to concur with the name change separately from their partner.
Filing Fees for a Minor's Name Change
There will be a fee when petitioning for a minor's name change. County courts accept cash, checks payable to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or credit cards as payment. Petitioners should call their local court to ask what payment methods are accepted. Petitioners who can't pay the fee to file the petition may have it waived.
If the petitioner can't afford to pay the court fees, they must qualify under federal poverty guidelines to file an Affidavit of Indigency. This allows them to explain their financial situation to the judge, who decides if they can pay the fee or not. Parents or legal guardians who change the names of two or more minors in the same family will pay for just one petition. The fees are:
- Name change filing: $150.
- Surcharge: $15.
- Notice of publication, if applicable: $15.
- Motion to change the minor's name in a divorce proceeding if not on a divorce petition or complaint: $100.
Publishing a Name Change Citation
After filing the name change petition, the parent or legal guardian must notify the public of the change through publication. The court will send them a citation to publish. Families who change the names of two or more minors with the same parents or guardians only need to issue a single citation.
The parents or guardians will publish this notice in a local newspaper and send the citation to the publication via certified mail with a USPS return receipt requested card.
Submitting Documents After Publication
After publication and mailing, the parent or guardian must return these documents to the court:
- Name change citation with a newspaper clipping of the notice.
- Return receipt postcard from the USPS.
- Parent or guardian's signature certifying that they mailed and published the notice.
A parent or guardian who does not want to publish the notice must file an affidavit with the court explaining their reasons and may have to appear before a judge.
Serving Name Change Papers
A parent or legal guardian must also notify any parent or guardian who hasn't approved the name change petition by sending them a copy in the mail with a return receipt requested card.
They do not need to notify the non-approving parent or guardian if:
- That person has completed an adoption surrender.
- The court has terminated the opposing parent or guardian's parental rights.
- The court waives notice.
Requirements to Notify of Name Change Request
If the parent or legal guardian who requested the minor's name change is on probation, parole, incarcerated, or has been treated in the Massachusetts Treatment Center as a person who is sexually dangerous, these entities must also receive a name change notification:
- Massachusetts Department of Correction or the Massachusetts Parole Board.
- Prosecuting official's office (district attorney, attorney general or the U.S. Attorney.
- Sheriff's office where the delinquency adjudications or convictions occurred.
- Prosecutor and the Sex Offender Registry Board if the parent or guardian is a registered sex offender.
Process Length and Objections
How soon a minor's name change case gets heard by the court depends on its case backlog. If the court doesn't require an in-person hearing, the case will be sent to the judge once the parent or guardian has returned proof of service, and the date of return has passed.
If petition objections arise, the court will schedule a hearing regarding them, where it will either dismiss the petition or allow the minor's name change to go forward. If no one objects, the court may decide to approve the name change with no hearing. Once the court approves the change, it will issue a name change decree to the parent or guardian, who can ask for a certificate for a small fee.
Name Changes for Trans Children
Another reason for a minor's name change is a change of gender. When the court decides whether to grant a name change to a minor, they will examine what's in that child's best interest by studying various factors, which may include:
- The minor's preference, considering their age and experience.
- How long they've used that name.
- Harassment, embarrassment or other difficulties they may receive from it.
- Parent or legal guardian's motives or interests of the parent.
The parent or legal guardian may wish to submit evidence showing the court why the name change is in the child's best interests. Examples of this include letters from family or friends confirming the minor's use of the name, and letters from teachers or mental health providers verifying the minor's gender identity.
Federal and Massachusetts Naming Laws
The court will grant a name change to the minor unless it is not consistent with public interests. Most states have somewhat lax naming laws, but some names are not allowed. In Massachusetts, first, middle and last names are limited to 40 characters.
The reason for this is due to "software limitations," according to a Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics official Sharon Pagnano. The state also restricts names to the characters on a standard American keyboard. While apostrophes and dashes are acceptable, letters like no æ, ë or ñ are not welcome in the Commonwealth.
- Mass.gov: Legally Change the Name of a Child Under 18
- Mass.gov: File for Adoption
- Mass.gov: Probate and Family Court Locations
- Mass.gov: Juvenile Court Locations
- Mass.gov: Ordering a Birth, Marriage, or Death Certificate
- Mass.gov: Probate and Family Court: Court Activity Record Information and Warrant Management System Release Request Form (CJP 34)
- Mass.gov: Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceeding Pursuant to Trial Court Rule IV
- Mass.gov: Probate and Family Court Assent to Petition to Change Name of Minor (CJP 30)
- Mass Legal Help: Affidavit of Indigency
- Mass.gov: Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB)
- The List: Wildest Baby Naming Laws In The U.S.
- Trans Equality: TE Minor Name Change Massachusetts.pdf
- You will need to pay to publish the legal notice in the newspaper. Fees vary widely by newspaper.
- In 2010, the filing fee for legal name changes in Massachusetts was $165.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.