Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What is in a name?

OK, this post is for all you trans people. Or at least PA trans people. The information in here might not work for everyone. But anyway.

A big step for a lot of us is changing our names. Out of all the trans people I've met, only one had no desire to change their name as part of transition. But that is often easier said than done. Luckily for myself and my local friends, Pittsburgh tends to be a bit more progressive than the area between it and Philadelphia.

In my own transition process, I waited a lot longer to change my name than many people. Finances and cold feet held me back for quite a while, as did the normal drama that seems to come with transitioning. But finally, a couple of months ago, I filed the paperwork, and my hearing was set for the 28th of this month.

But anyway. On to the actual process.

Many people will tell you that you need to have a lawyer to get your name changed. In my experience, that's pretty severe overkill. It's possible that a lawyer may be needed if the petitioner has complicating factors such as a criminal record or being the target of a lawsuit, but I am unsure of that.

The first thing is to get the actual paperwork. Your county courthouse will have name change paperwork, but it is more general and geared toward people who change their name through marriage or divorce, and does not take into consideration the needs of a trans petitioner. So, if you are in Pennsylvania, the Mazzoni center in Philadelphia has a name change packet that is usable in any Pennsylvania court. This packet includes a formally written request for a waiver of the publication requirement, as well as a request to seal the court records (which was unfortunately denied in my case... may have to revisit that later).

You should still get a copy of the local packet though, to see what documentation and other things are necessary. Some areas will require you to supply a couple of addressed, stamped envelopes.

One thing that many people do not know is that it is not only possible but very easy to waive the publication requirement! This saves you a couple hundred dollars, some time, and a lot of worry over safety. In some cases, the judge or an officer of the court may question why you are asking for the requirement to be waived. If this happens, remind them that trans people are one of the most targeted minorities for violence and discrimination, and that publicizing the name change could possibly lead to an increase in those things. In my experience and those of my friends, the court will aquiesce to the request in this case.

A couple of other things are required by the court. When I did my initial filing, I went overboard and gave them copies of my driver's license, Social Security card, birth certificate, and fingerprints. In most cases all that is needed is a fingerprint card, which usually costs between $10 and $30. If you are in Pittsburgh, one of the better places to get this done is the Dormont police department, which charges $10 and didn't ask me any awkward questions.

You will also need a judgment search for each county you have lived in for the past five years. These are easily obtained and relatively inexpensive. A judgment search for Allegheny County costs $25 and can be obtained the day of your hearing by going to the Department of Court Records. For Indiana County, which I lived in until 2010, it costs $7. Costs vary from county to county, but should not be much more than what I have stated.

One other thing. Most courthouse cashier systems only take cash or money orders. So if you are not used to carrying cash, this is something you need to remember beforehand.

When you go in for your court date, it will most likely be the Court of Common Pleas. Everyone is set for the same time (in my case, 9:45 AM) and is called up one by one. This can lead to potential awkwardness, if the judge chooses to ask questions or broadcast your trans status. This basically depends on the judge. When one friend of mine went in to have hers done, the judge addressed her by her last name only and acted as if she was only changing her last name, and congratulated her - potentially leading uninformed observers to think she was getting married. I'll post about what happens with my own case after the hearing date.

So, there you have it. How to get your name changed in Pennsylvania. I hope it helps.

The Mazzoni Center
==> Name Change Packet

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful post Alisha, I hope to see more posts like this in the future.