Why Should You Change Your Name Legally
Many people change their names. Often, they go by their middle name, or perhaps a different name all together. But it is important to change your name legally if you wish to go by a different last name, or even if you would simply like to add/subtract a letter from your name. The reason for this is so that you may use your new name to sign contracts with a broader legal standing. It also cuts down much of the confusion when a person has decided to go by a different name but still has the original name as the legal name.
If you simply want to change your last name after being married, there is no need to file a name change with the court. Simply take the signed marriage license to the local Social Security Office and ask the clerk to issue you a new social security card which reflects the name change - either swapping your name for your spouse's or a hyphenated name. However, if you should also wish to change your first name, you need to go through this process.
Drafting the Paperwork
First, you need to draft the petition. A petition is the written instrument you will file with the court that will ask the court to change your name. Click on the link below this guide for a sample form. Please note that you will not be allowed to change your name if (1) you have a felony conviction, unless you have successfully completed the probation period and at least two years have passed since the end of your probation period, or (2) you are required to register as a sex offender, unless you have notified all appropriate local law enforcement authority of the proposed name change.
Where to File the Paperwork
You must file this paperwork with the District Clerk of your county of your place of residence. For example, if you lived in Galveston County, you would need to file with the Galveston County District Clerk's Office. Look up your county online - nearly all counties have filing information on their websites. You may also call the county's district clerk office to get further information. It is recommended to call ahead to make sure you are filing at the right address. You may either send the petition by mail, or walk into the office to file. It is strongly recommended to file in person, since you can then usually ask for a court date then and there. If you mail it in, a court date is set automatically and you have to follow up with the court to see when the date was set. Notice that once you file it, the petition would then be transferred to the court and from then on, your communications should be with the Court coordinator and/or clerk, rather than the district clerk's office.
How to File
If filing by hand, bring three copies to the county district clerk's filing window. Again, check with the county district clerk's office to find out where the filing window is located. A clerk will take your copies, typically one or two of them, and stamp the third and give it back to you as proof of filing. You will also be asked to pay a filing fee - typically anywhere from $200 to $250, depending on your county. If you are sending it by postal mail, send three identical copies of the petition, a filing fee (call ahead to find out what it is), and a self-addressed and pre-stamped envelope with your address so the district clerk can send you a stamped copy back. Include a one sheet cover letter on top of the petition copies to explain that you are filing for a name change.
After about a week, call the district clerk's office and confirm that your petition has been filed. If everything has been done properly, your petition was assigned a court and a case number (if you filed in person, you are likely to find out both at that time). Find out the number of the court. Call the court and touch base with the court coordinator and/or the court clerk. Ask them what the "cause number" is for the case, and save that number for you'll need to enter that into the fingerprint card's ORI field later.
You now have to go get fingerprinted so that a background check can be run against your fingerprints at the Texas Department of Public Safety. A local police office, FBI office, or DPS office may fingerprint you, it is very highly recommended to get fingerprinted at Fingerprint Applicant Service of Texas (FAST). FAST works with the DPS and the whole process is much quicker. You may call 1-888-467-2080 to schedule an appointment to be fingerprinted at a FAST location or access the website at www.ibtfingerprint.com. The fee for this fingerprinting service is $9.95. Once you are fingerprinted, take your two sets of fingerprint cards and fill out the blanks on them (name, sex, DOB, ORI, etc.). Then attach a cashier's check, certified check, personal check or money order made payable to Texas DPS in the amount of $34.25, and send it along with the fingerprint cards to: Central Cash Receiving, P. O. Box 15999, Austin, Texas, 78761-5999. Make sure not to forget the ORI (cause) number.
The Texas Department of Public Safety will check your fingerprints and report the findings back to the Court. Now this is somewhat of an awkward wait - you have to continuously check with the court to see if the fingerprints report have come back to the court. Call once a week. There is a wait period of roughly six weeks, although it depends on a number of factors and might take a shorter or longer time. If your court date is coming up and the results have not yet come, ask the Court's coordinator or clerk to move your court date further. You might have to make an appearance on your court date and ask for a continuance due to the fact that your fingerprints have not yet arrived. If they do arrive early, you may call the court and ask if you can come earlier and be heard on the "uncontested docket" - some courts hear uncontested cases such as a name change or an agreed divorce early in the morning or perhaps one day a week. Check with the court's coordinator/clerk.
Proving Up Your Name Change
Assuming the fingerprints from the Texas Department of Public Safety arrive and you appear on your set court date or earlier on the uncontested docket, you now have to prove up your name change. This means that once your name is called, you must approach the bench and tell the judge what you are asking of the court. "Proving up" something means verbally asking the court for legal relief, on the record. Yes, you will likely be audiotaped. The process is easy - simply follow the format of your petition (make sure to have a copy with you). For example, begin with "Your Honor, my full name is ____. I am here today requesting a name. My permanent residence is ____. The reason for my request is ____. Just read down your petition. The Judge may interrupt you to confirm a fact or ask a question. Assuming everything goes according to plan, the Judge will then sign the Order and your name will be legally changed. Note that you will not be able to get a copy of the order immediately.
Ask the court's coordinator/clerk when a certified copy of the Order will be available and where the local records are held. Once the Order will be available for release, go to the record location and ask for a copy of the Order. It may cost you anywhere from $7 to $20 depending on the county. Then, use copies of that Order (keep the original certified, although don't worry - you can always get another certified copy if you lose this one) to change your name on your driver's license, social security card, and other records. Many governmental and non-governmental agencies will want more than just the Order (such as a quick application that they will provide), but the Order is the important factor. Good luck.