April 15, 2015 § 7 Comments
Requests for name changes are something every family practitioner encounters.
There are two general categories: (1) the change of name only; and (2) correction or change of birth certificate.
If you are seeking to change a person’s name only, without affecting the birth certificate, you proceed under MCA 93-17-1(1). Most often, this type name change is in the context or wake of a divorce action, where the woman wants her surname restored to her former name. That is an ex parte matter, since there is no other interested party. Except, however, in the context of the divorce, in which the estranged spouse may object. I represented a woman in an ID divorce once, and her husband adamantly and quixotically refused to agree to any provision in the PSA allowing her to change her name. I advised her to agree, and threw in a separate name-change action after the divorce was final.
Divorces are not the only reason for a name change. Some people simply don’t like their given name, or want to honor someone. I signed a judgment not long ago for a young man who wanted to change his surname to that of his step-father, who had raised him and was the only father he had ever known. If you are changing the name of a child, both parents must join.
In neither of the above scenarios does the birth certificate change. In order to change the birth certificate, more is required.
If you wish to change any birth fact on the birth certificate, then you proceed under MCA 41-57-23, which requires that you make the State Registrar of Vital Records a party. Typically, lawyers simply mail a copy of the complaint to the State Board of Health with a request for a response, and the agency will file an answer, most often either admitting the relief sought or leaving it up to the court. If you fail to make the agency a party, the judge will send you back to the drawing board.
Keep in mind that changing birth facts requires some proof, more than mere assertions. If you are trying to correct an incorrect name on the birth certificate, produce driver’s license, Social Security card, school records, and affidavits showing the correct information. If you are trying to correct a birth date, baptismal records, affidavits, school records, and the like will support your claim.
Another kind of birth certificate change is set out in MCA 93-17-1(2), which allows the court to “legitimize” a child when the natural father marries the natural mother. Again, you must make the State Registrar of Vital Records a party.
Name changes are fairly simple. Just keep in mind that if it’s for an adult, it’s ex parte. If it’s for a child, the parents must be joined. If it effects a change in a birth certificate, the state must be made a party. It’s embarrassing and costly to drive two counties over only to have a judge say, “Sorry, you have to make the parents or the State Department of Health a party.”