OK, so you want to change your name. That ugly moniker your parents stuck you with no longer fits. Or, maybe, it's just time to upgrade your tarnished image. Maybe that appellation reminds you too much of the spouse you left behind and would just as soon forget. Or, perhaps, you like your name, have gotten sort of cozy with it, only to learn that in Urdu it means "bitchy old woman with lice in her ears," and you'd rather not be thought of that way on your next sojourn to Pakistan.
Whatever the reason, how do you go about it? Not forgetting the old spouse, but changing your name? What legal steps are required and what, precisely, are the consequences?
In Colorado, as in most states, name changes may be accomplished by either one of two methods, both of which are perfectly legitimate. A person who wishes to change his or her name may proceed under statutory law by petitioning the court in the county of his residence or, alternatively, the person may affect a name change under common law. Statutory law is that law enacted by the legislature and encoded in one or the other of various codes. Common law is developed by custom and by decisions of the court rather than enacted by the legislature. In our system of law, the two exist side-by-side.
Courts encourage proceeding under statutory authority by filing a petition for name change. The reason is self-evident; it is advantageous to the state for such changes to be a matter of record and for all public records to conform to the name actually used.
When proceeding under statutory authority, three papers are required: the Petition, the Order for Name Change, and the Notice of Change of Name. The statute specifically requires that the petition set forth the petitioner's full and correct legal name, the new name desired, and a concise statement of the reasons for the desired change. Public notice of the change of name shall be given at least three times in a newspaper published in the county where such person is residing within twenty days after the order of the court is made. The purpose of such public notice is to alert any persons who might be disadvantaged by such name change, such as a creditor the petitioner is attempting to defraud.
While a court has wide discretion in dealing with statutory change of name applications, it may not deny the application unless special circumstances or facts are found to exist. These include an unworthy motive, the possibility of fraud on the public, and a choice that is bizarre, unduly lengthy, a numeral, or a name that is ridiculous or offensive to common decency or good taste. World Peace and Ocho Cinco do not, apparently, fall into those categories in their respective jurisdictions. Likewise, the application may be denied if the interests of a spouse or a child of the applicant would be adversely affected. Clearly, the performer formerly known as Prince did not apply for a statutory name change in Colorado.
A child's surname may be changed by the Registry of Vital Statistics upon a affidavit of the parent that the name change is being made to conform the child's surname to the parent's legal surname.
Statutory proceedings notwithstanding, in Colorado, a person may lawfully change his name without resort to any legal proceedings or involvement of the courts. If the change is not made for any fraudulent purpose, the changed name will constitute the person's legal name for all purposes. No formalities whatsoever are required. Once the change is adopted, however, the person must use the new name for all purposes, both public and private. If a person retains the original name, and uses it for some purposes, the new name will not be legally adopted. Rather than having acquired a new legal name, the person will be treated as using a fictitious name, and if he or she does business under the fictitious name, he or she must comply with the statute for registration of trade names.
In the arena of divorce and child custody, it is worth remembering that rarely can one parent do anything of consequence to or with the child absent the other parent's consent. This, of course presupposes the increasingly usual case where both parents are afforded rights concerning the child. In such setting, if the custodial parent (defined as the one who is charged by the court with the child's primary care) seeks to change the child's surname, the non-custodial parent must be given reasonable prior notice and must be given an opportunity to be heard if he or she should protest to the change.
As with most things in this world of legal consequence, it is wise to consult with legal counsel before taking a leap which might prove problematic. After all, there are worse things than being known as "lice ears" in Karachi.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of "Community Focus." Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his e-mail addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.