Name Changes in Virginia

Under the laws of the State of Virginia, it is legal for an adult to use any name that he or she chooses. The only restriction is that there be no fraudulent purpose intended by the name selection or use. It is not necessary to have one’s name formally changed by formal court order to use the name. Traditional name changes, e.g.,  as a result of marriage, can occur without formality.  Whatever name spouses want to use (retaining a maiden name as a middle name, adding a ‘fourth’ name, creating a shared hyphenated surname, and the like) is perfectly fine without a name change order from a court.

However, most governmental agencies (e.g., DMV, Social Security, IRS, Passport agencies) and most banks will require formal documentation in the form of a Name Change Order from a court before they will change their records.

Name Change After Divorce

A spouse who has changed his or her name as a result of the current marriage is permitted revert to a former name (birth name, name adopted as a result of an intermediate marriage, etc.)  in an expedited fashion as part of the divorce process. If not done as part of the divorce, you can still revert to a former (or any other) name, but then it is processed as a ‘regular’ name change.

Adult Name Change

A formal change of name is granted only by petition to the local circuit court and will be granted by the court if it finds that good cause exists. Good cause is liberally found by the courts (it’s almost presumed by the request and your statement of such under oath). However, convicted felons who wish to change their name will find themselves with a higher burden of proof. Registered sex offenders will likely never be allowed a formal name change. A name change for the sake of avoiding creditors falls into the category of not good cause, but you can still ask.

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. 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 mere desires of the custodial parent. Examples of cases where the name change was shown to be in the child’s best interests include:

  • non-consenting has been totally absent from child’s life and child of sufficient maturity wants to adopt name of custodial parent and that of siblings.
  • non-consenting parent has 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.

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 now be done about it.