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The Ins and Outs of Changing Name and Gender

by Diana O’Brien
Tuesday Jan 8, 2013

At some point, most transgender people will find that the name that was assigned them at birth no longer suits them, and they choose a new name that affirms their gender identity.

It is not uncommon for them to be known by this new name for years before they consider making this change legal. It is, after all, a difficult personal decision that impacts family, friends, careers and more.

There are many good reasons for pursuing a legal name change, including personal safety, privacy, avoiding problems with various law enforcement agencies, establishing family, employment issues, and eliminating the distress of living with 'the wrong name.'

Having identity documents that match gender presentation is an important part of transition from birth-assigned gender to experienced gender. With a little courage and perseverance, it is a realistic and attainable goal for most transgender people.

Understanding this process (in Florida) is important for transgender people, as well as their allies in the rest of the LGBT community and beyond.

Just the Facts

The first question usually asked is "How much will it cost?"

This varies from person to person, but in Florida it typically will run about $500 to pay for the court filing fee, background check and updated driver's license. The $401 court filing fee can be waived if the petitioner (the person filing for the name change) is unable to pay it, but everything else will still need to be paid.

There are many other things that may need to be changed, too, including passport, vehicle title and registration, diplomas, birth certificate, and professional licenses. Changing these may cost as much as another $500.

Unless the petitioner is a minor, adjudicated incompetent, or a convicted felon, it is probably not necessary to have an attorney - though it never hurts.

You can file the paperwork and represent yourself in court.

Changing a legal name does not require changing one's gender marker. They are two entirely different processes.

And while changing just the name requires a court order, the gender marker change requires a special letter from a physician.

How long this process takes varies.

The court case may take three to six weeks to come up after filing, but will be decided in a few minutes with the judge. Once the final judgment is entered and certified copies purchased, the rest of the work begins.

Some agencies like the Social Security Administration and the Division of Driver Licenses require a visit to their office.

Others may only need a photocopy or certified copy of the court order mailed to them.

It may take a month or more to update all identity documents, licenses, and accounts.

Where to Start

It goes without saying that the beginning of this process starts well before filing for a name change.

There is a journey of self-discovery and acceptance, hopefully - but not typically -supported by family and friends. This journey often involves counselors and medical professionals. With that said, some practical considerations are listed below:

Finances: Is there enough money available to complete the process?

Checklist: Are all forms gathered, all information collected, all requirements anticipated and met, all accounts and contacts listed?

Support system: Is everything in place to succeed?

The Court Process

1. Obtaining forms

Because court forms and instructions are subject to change, it is advisable to purchase the packet PETITION FOR NAME CHANGE ADULT directly from the Clerk of the Court in your county of residence. Additional forms will be needed if filing for a waiver of the filing fee.

2. Following the instructions and gathering information

The petition asks for a great deal of information. It is important to gather everything needed before starting to fill out the petition. It is also a good idea to make a blank copy of the pages that must be filed, to have a master copy in case of mistakes.

3. Electronic fingerprinting and background check

Florida requires LiveScan, a special kind of fingerprinting and background check. Most law enforcement agencies, including the Broward Sheriff's Office, no longer provide LiveScan for name changes. The PETITION FOR NAME CHANGE ADULT contains a list of private providers throughout the state.

4. Filling out the petition

The petition packet is over fifty pages, but most of these are instructions. The pages to be filled out and filed are:

a. Cover Sheet for Family Law Cases

b. Notice of Related Cases

c. Petition for Change of Name (Adult)

d. Notice of Hearing

The Disclosure from Nonlawyer form must be filled out if someone who is not a lawyer helps you fill out the forms. The Final Judgment of Change of Names (Adult) form should also be filled out and filed with the Petition.

5. Filing the petition

Upon completing the petition and complying with the fingerprint requirement, the petition must be filed with the Clerk of the Court. The filing clerk will go through the petition and highlight anything that must still be filled out or doublechecked. Then the completed petition may be filed.

6. Setting the hearing date

After receiving the petition and LiveScan result, the court will set a hearing date for the case. The court will then send a notice of hearing in the self-addressed stamped envelope that must be provided by the petitioner.

7. Final judgment

It is necessary to appear at the hearing in front of the judge that is presiding over the case. The judge will ask several questions to verify that the intent of the petitioner is lawful. Once the judge is satisfied, the Final Judgment will be signed.

Congratulations. If you've it to this point, your name is now changed!

8. Certified copies

Many other agencies are going to need a certified copy of the final judgment in order to change their records and issue new identification documents. It is important to purchase enough certified copies of the final judgment from the Clerk of Court for agencies that want to keep a certified copy.

9. Changing other Identity Documents

The Social Security Administration is the next stop for name and/or gender marker changes. It takes a day or two for their database to upload the new information. Afterwards the driver license can be updated. The court order (and physician's letter for gender marker), driver's license and Social Security Card form the basis for updating everything else.

10. The End of the Matter

It is no small achievement to complete this process. Many of the agencies' personnel have no cultural competency or diversity training in handling transgender customers, and may not even be familiar of their agencies' protocols.

There are many difficulties and obstacles to overcome.

Good luck!

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