Legal Name Change in Virginia

Under the laws of the State of Virginia, it is legal and proper for an adult individual to adopt any name that he or she chooses, so long as there is no fraudulent purpose intended by the name selection. It is not necessary to have one’s name formally changed by formal court order to use the name. Traditional name changes on a marriage certificate occur as a formality – even in cases of wanting to retain a maiden name as a middle name or create a shared hyphenated compound name. However, most governmental agencies (e.g.., DMV, SSA, IRS) and most banks will require formal documentation in the form of a Name Change Order from a court before they will change their records. Get more information from the Virginia Legislature’s Section on Name Changes.

There are actually several reasons and scenarios we’ve encountered concerning name changes from final determination of a marriage license to adoption cases. Consult with one of our attorney’s on how to change your name in Virginia for any of the cases pointed out below.

Name Change After Divorce in Virginia

A wife is permitted to revert to her maiden name as part of a legal name change in Virginia during a divorce. However, it needs to be included as part of the process before the final divorce hearing. After that, it becomes a new court clerk case. You will be required to petition for your name change through your local circuit courts with additional paperwork to go thorough and cost.

Adult Name Change

This concerns a non-marriage or divorce related desire to change your name as an adult to something other than your given from birth. An adult petitioning for a name change in Virginia must have lived in their current Virginia city or county for at least the past six (6) months. Convicts, felons and sex offenders who wish to change their name will find it at the mercy of the court of whether it is in the public’s best interest to ever do so. A name change candidate would be dealt with severely by the court if a name change was given for fraudulent purposes such as avoiding creditors.

Considerations For Changing A Minor Child’s Name

To change the name of a minor child in an “uncontested” fashion requires the consent of both biological parents, or the consent of one parent with no objection from the other after reasonable notice has been provided to him or her. If the child’s biological parents are deceased, the child’s court-designated legal guardian(s) has the ability to petition for the name change.

A child’s name can be changed over the objection of a parent in limited circumstances, and generally only if the name change is proven to be in the child’s best interest, as opposed to the desires of the custodial parent. Examples of cases where the name change was shown to be in the child’s best interests, and therefore was granted over the objection of the absent parent include:

  • absent parent abused child;
  • absent parent-committed notorious crimes that make retaining name potentially or actually embarrassing to the child;
  • the child is of sufficient maturity to express desire for changed name;
  • total abandonment of child over a long period of time.

Again, it should be noted that the name change petitioner must have resided for at least six months or more in their current Virginia city or county court in which the application is being filed.

Important To-Do’s After a Name Change

There are several agencies/entities that you will need to contact to update your name change information. A few that will be critical will be following:

Social Security Administration – To continue to have your paycheck’s SSA deductions to be attributable to your past contributions under your former name, you will be required to notify the US Social Security Administration to obtain a new social security card. You may also want to reference Defining the legal Name for an SSN.

Virginia Drivers License – To update your driver’s license identity, the Virginia DMV will require a Virginia Driver License and Identification Card Application to be submitted with certified copies of your Virginia name change court order or divorce decree, two proofs of ID and your current driver’s license. A whole new photo driver’s license will be issued.

US Passport – Visit the US Department of State Passport Name Change webpage for information on updating your name change to your passport. The process to change your name on your passport will vary depending on your situation.

Virginia Voter Registration – Visit the Virginia Department of Elections website and submit an updated voter registration application form. There is no filing fee related to doing this. This Virginia voter registration form can also be downloaded to fill out an mail to: Virginia Department of Elections | 1100 Bank Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Child Adoption Name Change in Virginia

Changing the name of a child is not a substitute for an adoption. No rights accrue to a child just because his or her last name may have been changed to that of a step-father. Some people think that a name change is a cheap means to accomplish the same end. Nothing could be further from the truth. If an adoption is contemplated, it is better to do that without the intermediate step of a name change.

An Adoption Name Change Gone Wrong Case Study

We know of several cases which illustrate the above principle. In each case, the birth mother and step-father really wanted the step-father to adopt the child, but adoption was put on hold “for the time being” because it was perceived as too expensive. They pursued a simple name change instead. The need for the adoption was then forgotten because the child had the step-father’s last name. Everybody assumed the child was his, so there is no need to adopt, right?

Wrong! The mother and step-father subsequently divorced. The children of the marriage retained military dependent’s benefits through the husband’s branch of military service. The “parents” erroneously believed the benefits would include coverage for the step-child. Shortly after the divorce, the step-father was killed in an automobile accident. The child was still a minor.

However, upon application for survivors benefits, the child was denied them. He was not the child of the deceased. The child had no rights to any benefits from his ex-stepfather. Indeed the child did not even have a right to a share of his ex-stepfather’s estate, or any insurance policies made payable to “my children.” If the child had became (or in the future becomes) seriously ill, there is no medical insurance coverage. The mother cannot afford it, and the military would deny it.

Indeed, the child had no rights to any benefits flowing through the step-father. The child was not his child in the eyes of the law. The tragedy is apparent, but nothing can be done about it.

Fictitious Names for a Business

Almost every name for a business is “fictitious,” meaning that the business name does not specifically identify the person or persons behind the organization. Whenever a business operates under a fictitious name, it is important that the business owner registers the fictitious name with the local government body. That way, a person seeking to do business with the company has the ability to determine with whom he is actually conducting his business. (A corporation trading under the exact name of the corporation is not using a fictitious name–even though it may be a made up name. It is still using its “real” name. A corporation is considered a real “person” if its organizers followed the proper procedures to incorporated the business. If the corporation adopts a trade name under which it will conduct its business that is not its corporate name, then the fictitious name rules will apply.)