How Do I Legally Change My Last Name?

Scales of JusticeFollowing the footsteps of celebs like Portia DeGeneres (aka Portia Di Rossi), you, too, may be considering changing your name as you celebrate your marriage. There are two basic questions to answer as you contemplate this decision: (1) What are the pros and cons of changing your name? (2) If, after considering #1, you decide to move forward, how do you change your name?

First things first, should you change your name?

Our fellow gayweddings.com expert, Steven Petrow, has already weighed in on this question and we agree wholeheartedly with his advice. In addition to Steven’s thoughts, we’d chime in, too, that in the event your relationship goes sour reverting to your “maiden” name may be harder to accomplish than the original change, depending on the state of the law where you live. For example, if you and your spouse currently live in Massachusetts and change your name through the traditional avenue for married couples, if you and your spouse split and you are living in, say, Alabama, both your divorce and getting your name changed back may be more difficult to obtain than was getting the original marriage and accompanying name change.

Second, if you decide to change your name, how do you do it?

Well, once you decide to change your name, there are a variety of options available (and which ones are available to you will, like so many legal questions, depend on where you live and your state’s laws):

1. If you live in a state where same-sex marriages are allowed by law, you may be able change your name to your partner’s or to a hyphenated name without first obtaining a Court Order, just like a heterosexual, marrying couple.

The first step in that process is usually getting a new social security card and driver’s license, using your new marriage certificate, which reflect your new name. Like any new terrain, there are bound to be bumpy patches, and there have already been a few (check out this Tennessee story). This choice, while less expensive than #2, may have a few headaches down the road when you apply for a new passport or other official documents, so be prepared for those.

2. If you want to avoid any trouble down the road or if you live in a state where that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage or where marriage-recognition is unclear, you may consider obtaining a Court Order reflecting your name change. From our perspective, this is the only sure-fire way to make sure you don’t have any trouble with your new name in the future for any reason (driver’s licenses, passports, etc). though even that does not always go smoothly, as evidenced by this Virginia story.

The choice to change your name is a deeply personal one. But if you want to do it, you should go for it! And, of course, we encourage you to consult with an attorney in your area for advice on your particular situation.

And remember, we welcome your questions and encourage you to ask them before your big day.

Legally Yours,

Heather & Emily

Heather McCabe and Emily Russell are family law practitioners who regularly serve the LGBT community in all kinds of legal affairs – from adoptions to dissolutions/divorces. McCabe has taught family law and legal writing and has been on the faculty at Georgetown Law, American University, and University of Baltimore. Russell worked as a lobbyist before coming to the law. Whether through document drafting, mediation, collaborative law, or litigation, McCabe and Russell are committed to the creation and security of the unique families they serve.