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Default Name Change

Under Pennsylvania law, if a parent of a minor changes their name legally, and they have custody of that child, the child will automatically take the new surname of the parent.  This applies to biological and adopted parents.  Unless the court has issued an Order stating that the child will not take the new surname, the child legally bears the new surname of the parent with custody over the child. (Reference Section 703, subsection (a) of Pennsylvania name change statutes).

If your adult name change will affect the name of a minor in your custody, you will need to serve any parent that does not have custody with a copy of the Petition and Notice for your legal name change.  Service details are listed under a separate heading below.

Court Order

If you want to change the name of the child to a name different than that of the custodial parent, you will need to get a court order approving the name change.  The steps for finalizing a minor’s name change are as follows: 

  • Have your fingerprints taken
  • File a Petition and Verification
  • Publish a Notice in two newspapers
  • Attend a name change hearing
  • Change the name with the government agencies

Legal Documents to Complete

First, have your fingerprints taken by a local law enforcement agency.  The parent filing the Petition needs to have their fingerprints on record.  There will be a fee for this service.  You also need a certified copy of the minor’s birth certificate. If you don’t have a copy of your birth certificate, you can use the Birth Certificate Request Letter. Then, fill out a Petition, Verification, Order, Notice, and Decree.  Each parent should sign the Petition and their own Verification.  If one of the parents does not consent, they will have to be served with a copy of the Petition.  Details are listed under their own heading below.

Next, file the cover sheet, Petition, Verification, Order, Notice, certified birth certificate, and fingerprint card with the Court of Common Pleas for the county where the minor lives.  These documents must be filed with the Court of Common Pleas that has jurisdiction over the county where the minor lives.  Take two copies and the originals to the court clerk’s, or Prothonotary’s office.  They will file the documents.  Ask for a stamped copy to be returned to you.  There will be a fee for this service.

After one month, and less than three months, after you file the Petition, you should receive a copy of the filled out Notice from the court by mail.  This Notice should list the hearing date, time, and place.  If you do not receive a Notice by mail shortly after one month has passed, call the clerk’s office to check on the progress of your Petition.

Publish the Notice

Once you receive your Notice by mail, have the Notice published in two local newspapers that are regularly circulated in the county where you live.  Typically, there is an official paper for the publication of legal notices.  You must have your Notice published in the official paper and one other paper before your hearing date. Mail the letter, a stamped copy of the Notice, and a self-addressed stamped envelope to the two newspapers.  You should specify in your request that you need a proof of publication returned to you in the stamped envelope.

After your Notice has been published, you should receive a proof of publication from each newspaper.  You will need this proof of publication in your name change hearing.

Serve Non-Petitioning Parents

Any parent that does not sign and file the Petition must be served with a copy of the Petition and Notice of the hearing date and time.  You must use a formal process server to serve the copies in person at least 30 days before the hearing.  If the parent lives outside of the state, it may be acceptable to serve the parent by certified mail.  Either way, you will need to present a proof of service at the hearing with your Decree and proof of publication.

Name Change Hearing

On the date of your hearing, take the stamped copy of all the documents you have previously filed with you to court.  This includes the Petition, Verification, etc.  You will also need to bring the original Decree changing name, your two proofs of publication, and a proof of service for each parent that did not sign the Petition.

If anyone has a legal objection to the name change, the judge will hear their arguments.  If the judge decides that the name change is not for the purpose of fraud, that it does not harm the greater society in any way, and that it is in the best interest of the child, the court will grant your name change and sign the Decree.

File the signed Decree with the clerk of court and get several certified copies back from the clerk.  You will likely need one certified copy for each identification office like the DMV and Social Security Office.  You should also get one certified copy for your records.

Complete the Name Change

The Decree will grant you the legal right to change your name.  Now, it is your responsibility to change the minor’s name with the government agencies like the Social Security Office and the Department of Motor vehicles.  To save time, you may fill out Social Security form SS-5 in advance.  Take the form, along with proof of identity (like a current driver’s license or passport) and proof of age (like a birth certificate) to your local Social Security Office.  The staff there will verify your personal documents and give you a certificate showing that the Social Security Office has approved your name change.  Alternatively, you can mail form SS-5 to your local Social Security Office with a certified copy of the proof of identification, name change Decree, and proof of age and the documents will be returned to you with your new social security card by mail.

The Social Security card and Decree can then be used to change any further identification documents like a passport.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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