Ultimate Guide - Legally Change Your Name in California

Ultimate Guide - Legally Change Your Name in California

Looking to legally change your name, or legally change the name of your minor child(ren(s)) name in California? Here is the complete overview & guide that provides procedural, cost and the tips and tricks to get you through the process from start to finish. This California name change guide also includes general timelines, estimation of costs, required court appearance information and some tips to help someone looking to change a name understand the name change process in total. Also included are local resources that can assist with the process in full, or just certain requirements. After reading, and getting familiar with this California Name Change Guide, you should be able to navigate the name change process in California Civil Courts without a hitch.

Name Change Disclaimer - This article does not cover certain variables of California name changes such as name changes when a guardian is petitioning for a minor or name changes related to gender identity petitions or confidential name changes. Those name changes in California, require different forms and the process will differ as well. The overall process, forms, costs and timelines may match to some degree; however Petitioners wishing to pursue those types of name changes in California should complete further research to integrate other aspects of procedure and regulations to successfully complete a name change.

Change Your Name in California – A Quick Reference

For those who want a quick overview of the California name change process we have a quick reference which provides top level overview to quickly identify requirements, timelines, costs and more for your name change in California. In case you don’t want to know about each and every aspect of a California Name Change Cases as provided below, you can quickly see a the top level overview right here. If you want to learn more about any of the aspects listed in the quick reference with regards to a name change in California, you will find them all in this article.

Name Change for Yourself:

  • Prepare and file the name change documents with the court. $465-$485 court filing fee.
  • After filing your documents, provide your filed documents to an adjudicated newspaper for the required newspaper publication. Make sure the newspaper provides proof of the publication for the court. Newspaper publication fee of about $80-$120.
  • Attend your hearing and leave the court with your name change order. Purchase a certified copy of your order/decree for $25-$35 each.

Name Change for Minor(s) – Both Parents Petitioning:

  • Prepare and file the name change documents with the court. $465-485 court filing fee.
  • After filing, provide your filed documents to an adjudicated newspaper for the required newspaper publication. Make sure the newspaper provides proof of the publication for the court. Newspaper publication fee of about $80-$120.
  • Attend your hearing and leave the court with your name change order. Purchase a certified copy of your order/decree for $25-$35 each.

Name Change for Minor – One Parent Petitioning – Other Parent is Served:

  • Prepare and file the name change documents with the court. $465-485 court filing fee.
  • After filing, provide your filed documents to an adjudicated newspaper for the required newspaper publication. Make sure the newspaper provides proof of the publication for the court. Newspaper publication fee of about $80-$120.
  • Have someone over 18, not you, hand (serve) the filed documents to the other parent and that person will complete and file the proof of service at the court. Independent process servers available and cost about $50-$75.
  • Attend your hearing and leave the court with your name change order. Purchase a certified copy of your order/decree for $25-$35 each.

Name Change for Minor – One Parent Petitioning – Other Parent Unknown:

  • Prepare and file the name change documents with the court. $465-485 court filing fee.
  • After filing, prepare and file a “motion and order” for permission to process name change without other parent’s consent or being served. $60-$120 Court filing fee.
  • Provide your filed documents to an adjudicated newspaper for the required newspaper publication. Make sure the newspaper provides proof of the publication for the court. Newspaper publication fee of about $80-$120.
  • Attend your hearing and leave the court with your name change order. Purchase a certified copy of your order/decree for $25-$35 each.

Name Change for Minor – One Parent Petitioning – Other Parent Contesting:

  • First consult with a family law attorney or civil attorney familiar with civil name changes in California. They will let you know the possible outcomes as a result of your court hearing and may provide representation to help you establish your case in court. If you retain the attorney, they will likely facilitate the following steps, or if they are offering a special appearance service (they only represent you at hearing) then continue on the list.
  • Prepare and file the name change documents with the court. $465-485 court filing fee.
  • Provide your filed documents to an adjudicated newspaper for the required newspaper publication. Make sure the newspaper provides proof of the publication for the court. Newspaper publication fee of about $80-$120.
  • Have someone over 18, not you, hand (serve) the filed documents to the other parent and that person will complete and file the proof of service at the court. Independent process servers available and cost about $50-$75.
  • Attend your hearing (possibly with an attorney representing you) and leave the court with your name change order depending on the court’s decision. Purchase a certified copy of your order/decree for $25-$35 each.

If you found the type of name change case you fall into above, then you can continue on and learn all the important details about name change cases in California. Our guide includes requirements for the name change, average costs start to finish, timelines and more information about the special requirements in those unusual name change cases.

How Long Does it take to Change a Name in California?

In most name change cases in California, and the same holds true throughout each of the 58 counties, from initial filing of the petition, until the court appearance, the process takes about 6 weeks to have a decree for change of name in your hands. Within this process there are two (2) name change requirements that have direct bearing on the name change timeline in the court.

The first requirement for the name change that has a time related requirement is the scheduling of the court date in the local civil court. Upon filing the petition, the court typically sets your court date appearance about 5-6 weeks later. These court dates for name change are set this length of time based on court calendaring availability, and also to give time for the required newspaper publication. Some courtrooms and court calendars may have a backlog or a large workload which can push your court date scheduling beyond this in some cases.

The second requirement in name change cases that dictates the general timeline is the newspaper publication. As a requirement of any name change in California, a local adjudicated newspaper (local newspaper, approved by the court to publish legal notices) must run a legal notice describing your petition and notifying the general public of the court date. The court requirement for this name change legal notice is that the advertisement must be published for 4 consecutive weeks, and then a proof of publication or affidavit from the publisher must be entered into the court system (filed). You will learn more about the required newspaper publication for name change below.

So essentially, in most name change requests in California, you will have a “Decree for Change of Name”, or Order, in your hands 45 days later.

How Much Does it Cost to Change Your Name in California?

There are several costs that will need to be either paid, or waived to obtain your court filed Decree for Change of Name in the California Civil Courts. Due to the nature of the timeline and requirements, all these costs are paid upfront so understanding the costs to change a name are important so any financial planning can be done to not hold up your process. Court fees and newspaper fees apply to all name change cases, but the process serving, additional court documents/request, document preparation services, and or attorney’s fees do not. Those costs are variables and would be paid if you elect to use those services in your name change case.

  • Court Filing Fees (possibly required) for Name Change Cases in California. The California Civil court has filing fees for almost any case initiation, a filing fee and is often called a “First Appearance Fee”. This is the fee the court takes when taking and filing your petition and name change attachments. This fee is typically consistent across all types of filings whether civil, family law, probate and more. The initial filing fee to open a name change petition case in California is currently (time of this article being published) $435.00. Furthermore, since the court will schedule a hearing for this matter, the court can also will take a “Court Reporter Fee” of $30.00 for a court reporter to be present and “keep record” of your name change proceeding. Total costs to California Courts to file your name change is $465.00. If you are eligible for a court FEE WAIVER you can complete those documents which will request the court waive those fees. The most common reason the court will waive your fees is because you receive some form of governmental assistance, or are considered low income. More about the fee waiver for name change petitions in the forms overview section, but simply put, if the court grants your fee waiver request, you will pay nothing to the court to process your name change case. An exception to this fee would be for Petitioners in both Riverside and San Francisco County, where the filing fees are currently $450 and added with the reporter fee, you will be at $480.00.
  • Adjudicated Newspaper fees (required) are a requirement and are not subject to a court fee waiver. Because the newspapers are not affiliated with the courts, but rather private companies authorized by the court to publish name change notices, an approved County Court fee waiver does not apply. Simply put, you will be paying a newspaper to publish your name change notice for the court required 4 weeks. The price of this notice will vary from newspaper to newspaper, so you will want to check with all the approved publishers to see who has the best price. Typically the fee will be between $80-$120.
  • Process Serving fees (optional) may only be required in name change cases for minor children, when the other parent is not consenting. More about process serving later. With regards to the price only, a bonded and registered process server in California can be anywhere between $50-$125 to complete the required serve and file the proof of service at the court.
  • Motion & Order fees (possibly required) may only be required in situations where a parent is trying to change the name of a minor and the other party cannot be found to either consent or be served. These documents (not typically fill in the blank court forms) are prepared and submitted to the court asking for permission to move forward without both parents consenting. Motion fees with the court are commonly either $60 or $120, depending on the court and case filing. If a fee waiver is on file for your name change case it will waive this fee.
  • Document Preparation fees (optional) are not required by any means, but for those who would rather not attempt to complete all the required documents, drive and stand in line at the court, work with the newspaper or even worry about those extra requirements and documents like motion and orders, a Legal Document Assistant (commonly known as paralegals)can help out with your name change. Legal Document Assistants are bonded and registered through the California County Recorders offices and are allowed to offer document preparation services for name changes directly to the public. Each service provider will offers different packages but you should be able to find a LDA who can complete, file and work with the newspaper for anywhere between $300-$650, costs may be more for a motion and order case. 
  • Certified Copy of Decree (order), optional but good to have. After the judge has made the decision and grants a name change decree, they typically will provide you a copy in the court room. What is not always common practice is the court providing a certified decree for change of name. A filed decree and a certified decree are exactly the same copy of the document, but the important difference is that the certified copy will have a colored stamp on it (usually red or purple) and is signed by the court clerk. This certification is what proves to other entities (DMV, SSI, California Vital Records) that the order is a true and correct copy from the court. Average court fees for certifying any document is $25, but you must purchase the document as well, so $1-2 for the order and $25 to have the clerk certify it. If a fee waiver is on file there will be no charge.
  • Attorneys fees (not common). By nature of the case, name changes are usually not contested, meaning there are not two opposing sides on the case and for a name change there is almost always only one hearing. Since name changes in California only have one required hearing, and usually not contested, an attorney for a name change may not be a needed expense considering it may have no impact on the outcome whatsoever. In those rare cases where one parent is contesting the other, and the Judge will be left to make a decision, a Petitioner may feel more comfortable with an Attorney present in court speaking on their behalf. Attorneys commonly work on retainer basis meaning you will provide an initial blanket payment to cover any costs they incur during the process. Retainers can be $2,500-$3,500 to start. For name change cases a local attorney may offer a one-time fee for their service.

Where Are Name Changes Filed in California?

Petitions for name changes are filed with the local County Courts, in the civil division. The documents are provided to the court filing clerk where they will process, file and return filed copies to the Petitioner or filer. Because every court in California handles different matters or types of cases, a person filing a Name Change Petition needs to confirm 3 main factors to determine they are filing in the correct court. If not, it will be a wasted trip to a court and after standing in line, the clerk will direct you to the proper filing court.

The first qualifying factor to determine what court in California you are required to file your name change in is County of residence. There are 58 Counties in California and Petitioners, for the most part will file in the County that they reside in. Family law and other civil cases have other factors which could push filings into other courts, but with name changes, it is almost always within the County you live in. Here is a list of the California County Courts websites as reference.

The second factor to determine is which our your county courts handles civil cases. California County Courts handle all types of cases and have different Judges to preside over those specific types of law. Name Changes in California are handled by the civil court so initially you can look at the civil courts which will narrow your possible filing courts down well in half. Once you have just the civil courts in your county as an option for your case filing, you need to find which of those civil courts handle name changes. There may be a separation of case types even within the civil division, meaning not all civil courts handle name changes. In smaller counties in California, there may only be one mail courthouse, so finding the proper filing court for your name change is easy. On the contrary, large counties like Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego… may have 15+ court locations.  

The third factor in determining the court to file your name change documents, after finding the civil courts that process name change filings, is location. After budget cuts in California beginning 2009 to present, many County courts are no longer consolidated (allow filing in any court). This means that just because there are 3 civil courts in your County, based on your zip/postal code, you are designated a single court for your civil filings. In most cases, it would be the court closest to your residence, but sometimes to even workflow across courts, the court can shift certain zip codes to different courts.

Overall, the proper court to file your name change in California can change. To be safe and save time, contact the civil court nearest you, and simply ask the civil clerk if you can file at that court based on your zip code.

Documents Required for Changing a Name in California

Petitioning the California County Court for a Change of Name is a process which is facilitating by a series of documents that makes the official request all the way to the final order the Judge of the Court will sign completing the process. While most of these forms for the name change are mandated through California, there are sometimes specific forms that vary from County to County. Here is an overview of the required forms to change a name in California.

  • Civil Case Cover Sheet – CM-010. The civil courts in California, because they handle so many types of civil cases, require the completion and filing of this civil case cover sheet for name change petitions. The civil case cover sheet allows the court to quickly categorize the type of case so that the filing clerk can assign the new case to a department and Judge as well as indentify the main elements involved in the case. While this form is required, it actually does not contain any information related to the change of name and when looking in section 1 to tell the court the type of case, there is no option for name change. For name change filings, the court accepts the last option for “type of case” which is 43 “other petition”. Furthermore the rest of the questions seem to have nothing to do with name change which can be confusing, but until the California Courts modify this required form to include a name change option it must be completing and filed. Some County courts have specific cover sheets and information requests so you will want to be sure to check online form packets with the court prior to filing so you have all required name change forms.
  • Petition for Change of Name, Form NC-100. This form is where the Petitioner of the case can inform the court about the name change request. It allows the Petitioner to indicate to the court who they are requesting that a name be changed, either themselves, or someone else, someone else is commonly their minor child. The court requests their present name as well as the proposed name, the proposed name is what the Petitioner is wanting the new name to be assuming the court grants the request. In recent years an option (question 6) to tell the court this name change is specifically to conform Petitioner’s name to their gender identity was added. Lastly, the court requests that for each person named on the form requesting a name change, they will have an attachment providing more information about that person. This form is NC-110. Think of the NC-100 as the top level overview of details to be requested in the name change process.
  • Name and Information About The Person Whose Name Is To Be Changed, Form NC-110. This form is where the Petitioner can tell the court the specific information about whose name is to be changed. It again asks for current name and proposed name and then further requests date of birth and age, City of birth, gender at birth and address. Question “7c” is where the reason for the change of name can be provided and the form continues to ask the relationship of the Petitioner to this person listed on the form. Common option here is “Self” when the Petitioner is changing their own name. Second most common option is “Parent” when the parent is requesting name change of their child(ren). There are also other options for circumstances such as guardianship and more but as mentioned in the disclaimer of this article, those variables are not covered or addressed here. Next is to provide the name and address of the parents if the person one this form is under 18 years old. In some instances “unknown” is used, but the court will have further requirements related to unknown or un-findable parents as described later in this name change guide. Lastly, on the NC-110 is a statement to be signed by the Petitioner if they are over 18 years old. Simply, these statements will state if you are under the jurisdiction of the department of corrections such as in prison or on parole and then if you are required to register as a sex offender. Keep in mind, and the form reminds you at top, this individual name change attachment is required for each name change requested so if a Petitioner is changing the name of 3 children, there will be 3 separate of these attachments to the Petition (NC-100).
  • Order to Show Cause for Change of Name, Form NC-120The name of this form doesn’t give much indication of what it is or the purpose to anyone foreign to court speak, but simply put it serves 2 important functions. First this form will facilitate the court clerk in setting up the required name change hearing and provides a place that once it has been filed, the clerk can provide the court date, address of court, time of hearing and department or room number. Question 3 may leave some confusion on the form since it has a check box, but is actually a requirement and serves as the second important function of this document. This question, or rather statement, is where the Petitioner provides the name of the newspaper that the legal notice will be published. Prior to filing this document (with the other required documents to open the case) the Petitioner should have researched “Adjudication Newspapers”, or newspapers approved by the court to publish legal notices in their county. Once this form has processed through the filing clerk at the County Civil Court it will need to go to the selected newspaper listed on the form, who will convert the entire page into a small font ad that will publish for a month. More about the legal notice for name change requirements in the section of this guide. 
  • Decree Changing Name, Form NC-130. This form is not required during filing, but to keep things simple and easy for the court, it can be submitted into your court file when you file the other documents. Essentially this is the order or official record of the court the Judge will sign at the court hearing date. The Judge and court will not complete this for you, but only sign the order making the name change official and an order of the court. Rather than risk forgetting to bring the form to your court date, it can be submitted in with the information as if the Judge will sign it. The court clerk will typically provide back a copy when being filed. The difference with this form and the others is it will not contain a “Filed” stamp in the upper right corner, but instead a “Received” showing the court has not processed it but rather placed it in your case file for future use. At the hearing, the Judge will sign and then it can be filed at which time you receive a filed and certified copy. If the court does not provide a certified copy by default, you will want to purchase one to serve as your official record of the name change from the court. Most entities such as DMV, Social Security Administration and Department of Vital Records (Places you will use the decree to change your name on file) will want a certified copy. It can be costly, but having a few certified copies can save time and money in having to go back to the court should you need more of them.
  • Proof of Service of Order to Show Cause, Form NC-121. This form is not always required, but on many County Court’s website they list the form in the list of forms to file. This may confuse a Petitioner since it is not a form that must be completed if it doesn’t apply. This form is used commonly in name change cases for minor children, where both parents are not filing the Petition together. Example, a single father is filing the petition without the birth mother. The court requires that both parents are aware of the court proceeding for name change of the minor and this is completed and documented by a serve, or simply put someone over 18 years old handing the documents to that person. The proof of service of order to show cause is then completed and filed with the court to verify the notification requirement has been met. 
  • Motion and Order/Application and Order. In situations where a parent or adult is Petitioning the court to change the name of a minor child(ren), and one or both parents cannot be found to consent or serve, a formal request can be made to the civil court Judge to allow the Petitioner to move forward on the case without notice to the required parties. This is done by what the court calls a motion and order. The motion refers to the formal request and the order is the Judge’s decision on the request. There are no California state name change forms for this and furthermore most county courts have no local form to complete this task. This means that the Petitioner will have to prepare and submit their request from templates, samples or free drafted on court “Pleading Paper”. The motion will include an extensive declaration about what has been done to track and locate the parent(s) as well as the results of each of those tasks. In some situations, Petitioner’s find it easier to use a  private investigator to complete a formal investigation and prepare a declaration of diligence to be filed with the motion. This proves to the court a good faith effort has been made to locate the parent(s). This situation and requirement in a name change process could make the difference of a quick an easy court procedure, or multiple appearances in court. If you are unsure about this variable a professional Legal Document Assistant service or even attorney (more costly) can assist. Here is a quick list of items the California court lists when trying to accomplish this requirement.
  • Fee Waiver Request, Forms FW-001 and FW-003. As described in the fees section of this article, the court has filing and court reporting fees when petitioning the court for your change of name. If you are within the state guideline for being low income, or receiving some form of governmental assistance, the County Courts will allow you to file your name change and request to have those fees waived. The California Fee Waiver request forms are used for this purpose. There are 2 main forms commonly used to make this request, the FW-001, Request to Waive Court Fees, and FW-003, Order on Court Fee Waiver. The FW-001 is where a name change petitioner in can describe to the court their financial situation and qualifying factors as to why they may have the fees waived. The form includes options of assistance received & income brackets for low income standards. The back of the form includes a simplified income and expense questionnaire. An important note on page 2 is the instructions on top, that the information may not be required depending on what options were selected on page one, specifically if there is some form of governmental assistance being provided, the court doesn’t require page 2 at all. 
  • The FW-003, or order, is the official form the court will use to let you know their determination of your request. Even though the court completes the most important aspects of this form, they will require you complete the top caption information including your name and address as well as the case name on the right. In many cases the court does not process these fee waiver requests on the spot, so be sure you have provided an envelope addressed to yourself, with a stamp already on it. Once they process it they will mail the order (court’s decision) back to you. This is important in name change cases because if the court denies the request, you only have a certain amount of time to pay your fee before they close the case. If you have already paid and started your newspaper publication, you will get a new court date with a new case and will have to pay for the newspaper publication again. In California courts, you will typically have 10 days to pay your name change filing fees if the court denies your fee waiver request. If the court mails you their decision, it may come closer to the end of this deadline rather than the beginning. Check your mail, and also check the court’s online case access system to see real time notifications and information about your case if your county makes available that information. You can ask the court clerk if that information is made public online when filing.

For help with document preparation for your name change view our Legal Document Assistants in California here. Name change petitions with the court are not usually contested, but if you expect that you may want to first consult with a civil attorney first to talk about what they can do to represent you in the courtroom.

Legal Publication for California Name Change

The California Court requires a Newspaper Publication to be ran and completed before your court date in order to have the Judge sign your name change order. The court requires that the Legal Publication be completed by an Adjudicated Newspaper, meaning a newspaper that has been approved by the court to do such notices. The newspaper will either mail you the Proof of Publication to take to your court date, while some more accommodating newspapers will file the proof/affidavit for you. Be sure to ask so you know how this important and required documents will get to the court as no orders for name change are made without it.

Possible Process Serve for Name Change Cases in California

As covered in different areas of this name change guide, a process server may be required to meet requirements of notification for the Judge in California’s civil courts to grant a name change decree (order).

For the name change of minors the court requires both natural parents be part of the court case in some manner. In cases where both parents are filing the petition for name change the court does not require the other parent be notified since they are one of the petitioners. In cases where only one parent is filing the petition for name change the court requires serve or consent of the other parent. The consent is a form that can be completed and then signed by the other parent, and filed at the court. If the other parent won’t sign the form a process server can serve the filed name change documents on the other parent and file a proof of service (form addressed above) at the court. While it is not a requirement that a process server complete this task (anyone over 18 and not a party to the case can do it), process servers are familiar with the nuances of serving such notices and can make sure it is done in accordance to all state requirements.

Court Appearance: If you show up at your date and all requirements have been completed, and no one has contested the name change, you will almost always walk out with your name change order. Getting a few certified copies from the clerk is always a good idea. Those certified orders are usually required by the Social Security Administration, Department of Motor Vehicles, and other agencies to confirm the name change. While there may be many cases being heard the day of your court date, a typical name change proceeding from when the Judge calls your name until you’re done, less than 5 minutes.

Name Change Order from a California Court – Now What?

After your court date, and a California Civil Judge has provided the Decree for Name change, you may not be done. The court simply makes the order, but does not go much further than that. It is up to the petitioner to then take the order to any place the name change should be in effect. Commonly DMV for driver license, Social Security Administration for new Social Security Card and often times and mailed copy to California Department of Vital Records to amend birth certificates. After updates have been made at these common places, those new identification documents should allow you to update name at the remaining places like banks, schools, and employer and so on.

As always, the information provided is not legal advice but rather procedural overviews of a process. Some information may vary from court to court if they have specific local procedures that go further than statewide procedures. Listings provided in the directory are not endorsed by our site, but rather compiled to provide local resources for consumers seeking professional legal services.

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