Name Changes in Pennsylvania

There are many reasons to seek a name change for you or your child. Maybe you recently divorced. Perhaps you’ve adopted a child. It might be that you’ve remarried and you want your family to have the same last name. Whatever your motivation, this article provides general information about name changes in Pennsylvania.

Process to Change the Name of an Adult in Pennsylvania

The primary purpose for involving the courts in name changes for adults is to prohibit fraud. An adult who wants to change his or her name must prove that it is not for the purpose of defrauding creditors or avoiding financial obligations.

Depending on your circumstances, there are different procedures to follow for changing your name as an adult in Pennsylvania:

Name change after divorce: If you are newly divorced, the process for changing your name is generally straightforward. You need to complete a Notice to Resume Prior Surname, which is available at the Prothonotary’s Office/Clerk of the Court, in the county where you were divorced. If your divorce was finalized in a different country or state, you can file an official copy of the divorce decree. There is a small fee to file the forms.

Name change without minor children: To open your case, you need to complete a Petition to Change Name with the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas/Prothonotary in the county where you live. The Petition explains the reasons you are seeking a name change. As part of the Petition packet, you must also attach a certified copy of your birth certificate and an official set of your fingerprints.  

After the Petition is filed, and you have paid the filing fee, the law usually requires you to announce the Petition to the public by publishing a notice in two newspapers. You will need to show the court proof of the publication and proof that there are no outstanding judgments or liens against you. The judge will hold a hearing to evaluate any objections and determine whether the name change is legitimate. A judge may deny a name change if the requested name would cause confusion or is bizarre, too lengthy, or offensive.

Name change with minor children: In Pennsylvania, when the parent of a child legally changes his or her name, the child will automatically take the new last name of the parent if that parent has custody of the child. If your name change will affect the name a child in your custody, you must provide a copy of the Petition and Notice to Change Name to the parent who does not have custody.

Process to Change the Name of a Child in Pennsylvania

When a child is born, the parent with custody is entitled to give the child the last name of either parent, or even a wholly different last name. If both biological parents want to change their child’s name after a birth certificate has been issued, they can complete and sign the form on the back of the birth certificate. After mailing the form to the Department of Vital Statistics, a new birth certificate with the new name will be issued.  

Alternatively, if one parent objects to the name of the child after a birth certificate has been issued, that parent must file a petition with the Court of Common Pleas where the child lives. The forms and procedures are the same as a name change for an adult -- the parent must:

  • attach a copy of the child’s birth certificate and official fingerprints to the Petition;
  • publish notice of the name change; and
  • give notice to the other parent.

After that, all parties should go to the court hearing. The most significant difference, however, is at the hearing the judge will evaluate different factors.

Factors the Court Considers When Deciding a Petition for Name Change of a Child

Generally, courts have no preference for the last name of either parent. When deciding a Petition for Name Change, a judge focuses on the best interests of the child. An evaluation of the best interests of the child may include considering the following factors:

  • The length of time the child has been named;
  • The identity of similarly named siblings or family members;
  • The bonds between the child and parents, as well as extended family members of the parents;
  • The social impact of a particular name in the community;
  • The child’s preference, if the child understands the significance of the proposed change.

This article is designed to be a basic overview of name change procedures in Pennsylvania. For assistance with issues specific to your case, you may consider contacting an experienced attorney.

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