Your name defines who you are. It often gives people an impression of you before they even meet you. Unfortunately, you don't get to choose your name at birth or adoption though. So what happens if you want to change your name? Whether you simply don't like the name you were given, want to change your name after a divorce, or are in fear of an abuser and wish to make it harder for the individual to locate you, it is possible to do a name change in New York.
The law relating to name changes in New York is found in the New York Civil Rights Act, Section 60-65. A petition to change your name must be filed in the county or superior court in the county where you reside. As a general rule, name change petitions are considered public record and are, therefore, able to be viewed by anyone. Moreover, the petition must be published in a local newspaper once filed. If, however, you are in fear and concerned for your safety you can request the petition be sealed when you file it with the court. In that case, the petition will immediately be sealed by the court and will remain sealed until the court has ruled on the petition. If the court believes you have a legitimate concern for your safety, the petition will remain sealed after the name change has been granted and you will not be required to publish the change in a newspaper. The New York courts caution petitioners to seek the advice and assistance of an attorney if seeking a name change under circumstances that include safety concerns to ensure that the petition is properly drafted and the record properly sealed.
For all other name change requests, the court requires the petitioner to include specific information in the petition relating to things such as:
- Whether or not you have ever been convicted of a criminal offense
- Whether or not you have filed for bankruptcy
- If there are liens against you
- If there are judgments against you
- If you are currently a party to litigation
- If you are under an order to pay child or spousal support and, if so, whether or not you are current with your obligation
If you are planning to change the name of an infant, New York law allows a "next friend", either parent, the child's general guardian, or the guardian of the child's person to file a name change petition on behalf of the child.
Be sure to consult with an experienced attorney at Simon & Gilman, LLP before moving forward with your name change petition to ensure that the petition is properly drafted and all procedural requirements are met.