Divorce involves many changes, both internal and external, and legal, emotional, financial, and social. For many people, primarily women (but a growing number of men) who changed their names when they got married, changing their names again after a divorce is a meaningful change. It is a public expression of those outward and inward transitions, perhaps even a way of reclaiming an identity.
Of course, you don't need to be getting married, or divorced, to change your name in Minnesota. Any adult who wishes to can change their legal name to almost anything they want, with some reasonable exceptions. If you are thinking about changing your name in Minnesota, here are some things you should know.
First and foremost, you must be a legal adult to apply for a name change in Minnesota. This isn't usually a problem for people who are divorcing! If you happen not to be eighteen or older, your parent, legal guardian, or next of kin must file the application for your name change.
While you can change your name to almost anything, your name change cannot be in order to trick or defraud anyone or to escape creditors. Of course, following a divorce, most people who change their name do so in order to take back their previous name, but you could choose a new one, too. (We know of an attorney in another state who changed his name to Luke Skywalker.)
In Minnesota, you're required to be a resident of the state for at least six months in order to apply for a name change here. If you're seeking a name change after divorce, this isn't ordinarily a problem, as you cannot have filed for divorce in the state without having met a residency requirement.
As of August, 2017, the filing fee for a name change in Minnesota was $314.00—no small expense. However, you can apply for a waiver of this fee if you cannot afford it. Along with the filing fee, you must file with the District Court in your county an Application for Name Change, Proposed Order Granting Name Change (this is a form you fill out in part, with the court filling out the order portion once your application is granted), and a Criminal History Check Release.
You can mail your forms and filing fee to the District Court, but many people prefer to hand-deliver them.
Everyone who applies for a name change in Minnesota must undergo a Criminal History Check. In order to complete this process, you need to submit a Criminal History Check form (different from the Criminal History Check Release you file with the court), a set of fingerprints, and a fee to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which is part of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Having a criminal record doesn't mean you can't get a name change. But if you do have a criminal record, the District Court is obligated to report the order granting your name change to the BCA within 10 days; changing your name won't let you leave your criminal record behind. You are also required to report your name change to the prosecuting authority in any other state in which you were convicted. Failing to follow the steps to report a name change if you have a criminal record can itself result in a misdemeanor conviction.
A name change isn't something you can do just by filing papers. You will have to appear before a judge, and you'll have to have at least two witnesses with you who are able to testify as to your identity. This makes sense, of course, along with the fingerprinting; you wouldn't want someone else to be able to claim to be you and change your name without your permission—talk about the ultimate in identity theft!
If you know before your divorce that you want to have your name changed when the divorce is final, you can have a provision included in your divorce decree that states that your name is ordered restored to whatever it was prior to the divorce. This is a common and reasonable step to take, and avoids the necessity of going through a separate name change process after your divorce.
Remember that if you do this, you will need to provide a copy of your divorce decree or other official documentation of your name change to government agencies (especially the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Register of Deeds in any county where you own property in your previous name), banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, and your children's schools.
While there are many reasons to change your name as part of your divorce, you may also want to keep your married name. There really is no right answer, only whatever works best for you. You can discuss the pros and cons of name change after divorce with your divorce attorney, who may offer insights you hadn't considered.
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