Changing Your Name in New York: A Guide for Attorneys and the Self-Represented ― Part II By Gerald Lebovits and Taneem Kabir

Gerald Lebovits is a New York City Civil Court judge and an adjunct professor at Columbia, Fordham, and NYU law schools. Taneem Kabir, an associate attorney at DeToffol & Associates, is admitted to practice in New Jersey and before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. For their research help on all three parts of this article, the authors thank law students Aviva S. Kravitz and Todd M. Neuhaus from Cardozo School of Law and Natalie J. Puzio, an undergraduate at Villanova University.

In this second part of our three-part article on New York’s name-change laws, we discuss how to change someone else’s name and what you must prove to change a name.

Name Change on Another’s Behalf. Name changing on behalf of another usually requires that individual’s consent.

If you are a family member trying to change the name of an adult family member (age 18 or older), follow the steps set forth in the “General Requirements” section below and, in addition, obtain that adult’s written consent. Likewise, if you are the parent of a child and are trying to change that child’s name, you must follow the “General Requirements” below and obtain the other parent’s or step-parent’s written consent and also the child’s written consent if the child is 14-17 years old. If the child is 13 or under, the child need not consent in writing.

The court will deny your name-change petition for a child if the name change does not substantially promote the child’s best interests.1 This “substantial best interest” standard requires the court to consider an entire slew of factors, including the child’s age, maturity, and sense of identity, as well as the effect of proposed name change on the child’s relationship with either parent and the child’s susceptibility to ridicule by peers. 2

In Matter of Kobra, for example, the court denied the parents’ petition for leave to change their nine-year-old daughter’s name because doing so at that “influential pre-teen stage of her personal and social development” when it was “crucial for her to have stability and to maintain a strong sense of self-identity” would make the girl’s life “absolutely miserable and unreasonably venerable to all kinds of probing questions, embarrassment, ridicule, and humiliation” from her peers. 2

If the child is 13-years-old or younger, you do not need the child’s written consent, but you must meet the General Requirements and “substantial best interests of the child” requirement. The court may deny the name you have chosen for your child if you do not properly notify the other parent of the proposed name change. If the non-petitioning parent does not consent to the child’s name change, moreover, the name-change court may consider the withholding of consent as an important factor. 3

Regarding the substantial best-interests standard, changing a 12-year-old child’s last name from that of the natural father to that of a stepfather is in the child’s best interests if the natural father has not seen or financially and emotionally supported the child for many years or if that child’s last name, being different from other step-siblings, causes the child confusion and embarrassment. 4

New York State law offers several ways to satisfy the requirement that the petitioning parent must properly notify the non-petitioning parent of a petition for leave to assume a new name for a child 17 or under. If the other parent lives in New York State, you, as the petitioning parent, must serve the other parent with the child’s name-change petition using a neutral process server.5

If the other parent lives outside New York State, you must send that parent notice by registered mail to a last known address.6 If you cannot find the other parent’s address after diligent investigation, the court will decide how to give appropriate notice to that parent. 7

If a parent successfully petitions to change the parent’s surname, any minor child of that parent may informally assume the changed surname,8 and that parent may register the child for school under the new surname. But unless parental custody rights have been terminated, a noncustodial parent may secure an injunction to prevent the child from using the new surname.9

In Galanter v. Galanter, the parties had minor children together.10 The children resided with their mother. After the father learned that the children were using another last name at school, he quickly filed for injunctive relief (which the court called an “application” and a “petition”) in Supreme Court for an order directing the mother to continue using his last name for the children and to cease and desist from imposing upon the children any other last name. The court ultimately granted his injunction, finding that the mother was not candid about imposing another last name upon the children and that the names invaded and defeated the father’s rights.

If the other parent is properly served with the child’s name-change petition but refuses to consent to it, this process becomes contested. The court will set a date and time for a formal hearing in which you and the nonpetitioning parent must appear and at which you will make your respective arguments about changing the child’s name; witnesses must testify under oath. The court will use as the standard what will substantially promote the child’s best interest.11 It would be wise to seek the help of a competent attorney to represent you at this hearing.

An applicant such as a domestic-violence victim whose personal  safety would be jeopardized  by publishing the proposed new name may ask the court under Civil Rights Law § 64-a(1) to waive the newspaper publication of the parent’s name change or the child’s name change. If the court finds that your safety or your child’s safety would be jeopardized, the court under Civil Rights Law § 64-a(2) may also immediately seal the records of the current name, the changed name, the residential and business addresses of yourself and the child, all telephone numbers, and any other information contained in any court pleading or paper.12 Once these pieces of information are sealed, they can be unsealed only by court order for good cause shown or at your request.13

For example, in Matter of Doe, the mother successfully petitioned to change her name and her infant child’s name without notice to the biological father and without obtaining his consent. According to the Civil Court, New York County, the father had threatened to kill them, and therefore notifying him would have jeopardized both the mother’s and child’s personal safety.14

You are also excused from notifying a spouse serving a life sentence about your child’s name change. That spouse is “civilly” dead and not “living” within the meaning of Civil Rights Law § 62 and therefore has no right to object or to be heard.

If you are a parent of an adult child who suffers from a mental disability, you may petition to change your adult child’s name only if your adult child cannot demonstrate an ability to make that decision on his or her own. In Matter of Individual with a Disability for Leave to Change Her Name, an applicant with a mental disability successfully petitioned to change her name without input from her family or guardian ad litem. The court was satisfied with her ability to make that decision on her own because she was living as independent a life as possible for a person with her disabilities.15 The applicant attended school, participated in a work program, handled her own money, maintained her own bank account, and took public transportation without being accompanied.

III. General Requirements: What You Must Prove
Under Civil Rights Law § 60-65, all name-change applicants petitioning a New York State court must submit the following:
(1) proof of birth information;
(2) criminal records disclosure information;
(3) financial status disclosure information;
(4) reason for changing a name;
(5) the petitioner’s signature;
(6) whether the petitioner has been convicted of a crime or adjudicated a bankrupt;
(7) whether any judgments, liens of record, or actions are pending against the petitioner; if so, the petitioner must sufficiently describe these judgments, liens, and actions in the name-change petition for the court to identify the matter referred to;
(8) whether the petitioner owes any child support or spousal support (called “maintenance” in New York and “alimony” in many other jurisdictions); if so, the petitioner must also disclose in the name change petition (a) whether these child or spousal support obligations have been satisfied or are current; (b) how much child support or spousal maintenance is outstanding at the time of the name-change petition filing; (c) which court issued the order that obligates the petitioner to pay the child or spousal support; and (d) in which county the child-support collections unit is located.16

The judge reviewing the petition has the discretion to accept or reject these documents as proof.
To submit your birth information, you must present with your name-change petition an original or certified copy of your birth certificate. To get a certified copy of your birth certificate if you were born in New York City, go to www.nyc.gov/html/doh/home.html. If you were born outside New York City, go to www.health.ny.gov/vital_records/birth.htm. If you were born outside New York State, you must submit a certified copy of your birth certificate, baptismal certificate, passport, or other legal documents showing the date and place of your birth.17

If you are a petitioner with a criminal record, you must disclose in your name-change petition the details of that record. You can do this by clearly identifying in your petition the nature of your crime(s), the date the conviction(s) were entered, and the name of the court(s) that convicted you. If you are on probation or parole or are serving a sentence as an inmate in a correctional facility for committing various violent felonies,18 you may petition for a name change,19 but you are required to notify the district attorney’s office and courthouses of each county in which you have been convicted when and where the petition will be presented.20 If you have completed your jail sentence, you should contact the court you are petitioning to find out whether you are required to provide a copy of your Certificate of Incarceration or Certificate of Disposition if you have served a felony sentence.21

To disclose your financial status, keep in mind that if you have declared bankruptcy and a court has found you bankrupt, or if any pending judgments, liens, or civil actions are pending against you, you must provide specific details.22 You should contact the court you are petitioning to find out what is necessary, but more is always better so that the judge may make a reasoned decision and so that you will not be accused of withholding information. If you are responsible for child support or spousal maintenance, you must also provide the details listed above in item #8.

To fulfill the affidavit requirement, you must affirm on the “Verification” page of your name-change petition that your petition is true and that if a child’s name is being changed, there is no reasonable objection by anyone, such as the other parent or a guardian, who might reasonably object to the child’s name change and that the child’s name change will substantially promote the child’s best interests.23 The following is an example of a verification:
Todd Neuhaus, being duly sworn, deposes and says: I am the petitioner in the above-mentioned proceeding. I have read the petition and know the contents to be true to my own knowledge, except to those matters alleged on information and belief, and as to those matters I believe them to be true.

To satisfy the signature requirement, you must sign your name-change petition with your current name before a notary public and pay the appropriate notarization fee, if any.24

To explain your reason for changing your name, you may put forward any honest explanation you wish to give, but the court, as we explain below in greater detail, has the discretion to deny your name-change petition if your proposed name will cause fraud, confusion, or offense to common decency and good taste.25

The third part of our three-part article on New York’s name change laws will conclude with where to file, in which court to file, and what happens after you file name-change petitions as well as publication requirements.  Look for it in the next issue of the Queens Bar Bulletin.

1 See Matter of Eberhardt, 83 A.D.3d 116, 121, 920 N.Y.S.2d 216, 219-20 (2d Dep’t 2011) (“Civil Rights Law § 63 authorizes an infant’s name change if there is no reasonable objection to the proposed name, and the interests of the infant will be substantially promoted by the change.”).
2 Matter of Kobra (Hossain), 37 Misc. 3d 1216(A), 961 N.Y.S.2d 358, 2012 N.Y. Slip Op. 52061(U), *5 (Civ. Ct. Kings County 2012). 
3 See Matter of Petras, 123 Misc. 2d 665, 671, 475 N.Y.S.2d 198, 203 (Civ. Ct. Queens County 1984) (“[A]n incarcerated parent should have the right to have his consent, or withholding of consent, carefully considered as an important factor by any court considering a change of name application.”).
4 See Matter of Robinson, 74 Misc. 2d 63, 64, 66, 344 N.Y.S. 2d 147, 148-50 (Civ. Ct. N.Y. County 1972).
5 N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 62, available at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/nc60.shtml#sec61 (last visited Jun. 17, 2013).
6 Id.
7 Id.
8 N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 64, available at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/nc60.shtml#sec64 (last visited July 17, 2013).
9 Karen Hogan, Starting Over: Legal Name Change, Pace Law ― Pace Battered Woman’s Justice Ctr., Vol. 1, Issue 1 (1998), http://law.pace.edu/starting-over-legal-name-change (last visited July 17, 2013).
10 Galanter v. Galanter, 133 N.Y.S.2d 266, 267-68 (Sup. Ct. Kings County 1954).
11 N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 63 available at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/nc60.shtml#sec63 (last visited Jun. 17, 2013); See Matter of DeJesus, 44 Misc. 2d 833, 834, 254 N.Y.S.2d 23, 24 (Civ. Ct. N.Y. County 1964) (“Change of name of minors should be approved or disapproved solely on the basis of the best interest of the minor.”); Matter of Wing, 4 Misc. 2d 840, 841, 157 N.Y.S.2d 333, 335 (Civ. Ct. N.Y. County 1956).
12 N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 64-a, available at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/nc60.shtml#sec61 (last visited July 17, 2013).
13 Id.
14 Matter of Doe, 3 Misc. 3d 648, 649-55, 773 N.Y.S.2d 215, 216-20 (Civ. Ct. N.Y. County 2003).
15 Matter of Individual with a Disability for Leave to Change Her Name, 195 Misc. 2d 497, 498, 760 N.Y.S. 2d 293, 294 (Civ. Ct. Richmond County 2003).
16 N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 61, available at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/nc60.shtml#sec61 (last visited July 17, 2013).
17 N.Y. St. Unified Ct. Sys., N.Y. Civ. Ct., Name Changes, courts.state.ny.us/courts/nyc/civil/namechanges.shtml (last visited July 17, 2013).
18 Id. The additional notice requirement applies if you have been convicted of a “violent felony” defined in N.Y. Penal Law § 70.02,  a felony defined in N.Y. Penal Law Article 125, or any of the following Penal Law sections: 130.25, 130.30, 130.40, 130.45, 135.10, 135.25, 230.30(2), 230.32, 230.05, 230.06, 255.25, 255.26, and 255.27.
19 Matter of Washington, 216 A.D.2d 781, 781, 628 N.Y.S.2d 837, 837-38 (3d Dep’t 1995).
20 N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 62 available at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/nc60.shtml#sec62 (last visited July 17, 2013).
21 N.Y. Courts, Self-Help Ctr., Procedures for Adult Name Change Petition, http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/6jd/forms/SRForms/name_change-adultproced.pdf (last visited July 17, 2013).
22 Id.
23 N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 63, available at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/nc60.shtml#sec63 (last visited July 17, 2013).
24 Sylvia Rivera Law Project, How to Legally Change Your Name in New York City, 2013, http://srlp.org/resources/namechange/ (last visited July 17, 2013).
25 See supra note 3 from Part I of this article, at 314-15 & 332-34 for a more detailed discussion about the case law surrounding the requirement against fraud, confusion, and indecency.

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