As Charleston divorce lawyers who handle name changes, we’re often asked about how to change a name (or my child’s name) in South Carolina. Legal name changes generally fall in one of three categories: (1) resuming a maiden name after a divorce; (2) changing an adult’s name; or (3) changing a child’s name. In this article, we explain all three.
Resuming a Maiden Name After a Divorce in South Carolina
This process is the easiest of the three categories. At the final divorce hearing (or sometimes in the hearing approving the separation agreement if it occurs before the divorce), a wife may request to resume her maiden name. During the hearing, the wife must testify and show the court that the name change isn’t for an improper purpose such as avoiding existing bench warrants or creditors and that the wife doesn’t appear on any sex offender registries. This is a routine process in almost every case. The family court judge then issues an order allowing the wife to resume her maiden name, and then she takes the order to the Social Security Office to make it official. The spouse then needs to contact the DMV and all other relevant entities to notify them of the name change. There really is no difference in cost to the client to add this request to their divorce case.
Adult Name Change in South Carolina
If an adult wants to change his or her name (besides resuming a maiden name), there is a statutory procedure that must be followed. First, the person must file a petition with the family court giving the reason for the name change, the person’s age, the person’s place of residence and birth, and the name by which he or she wants to be known. Also, the following things must be attached to the petition:
- The results of a fingerprint and criminal background check by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED);
- A screening from the Department of Social Services (DSS) that shows whether the person is on DSS’s registry of child abuse and neglect;
- An affidavit of the person requesting the name change that states whether the person is under a court order to pay child support or alimony; and
- A screening statement from SLED that indicates whether the person is on SLED’s sex offender registry.
Our lawyers will handle most of these things for you, but you will have to go to the Sheriff’s Department to complete your fingerprint card before we can get the background check from SLED.
In many cases, we can have the name change granted without a hearing, but sometimes the judge may require a hearing before granting the name change. The judge will consider the true interest of the person and the protection of the public before deciding whether to grant the name change. By statute, the changing of a name doesn’t affect, limit, or reduce the person’s (or his or her estate’s) obligations to others.
Changing a Child’s Name in South Carolina
A parent may petition (file a lawsuit) to change his or her child’s name. The parent must make the other parent a party to the lawsuit unless the other parent’s parental rights have been terminated or the parent is deceased. The petition doesn’t require all of the attachments as described for adult name changes above, but it does require the appointment of a guardian ad litem (“GAL”). The GAL must be appointed even if both parents agree to the name change. Also, a hearing is always required in a child name change case, and the GAL will report the findings of his or her investigation at this hearing. While many people are more familiar with a GAL’s role in custody cases, this is one of the unique areas where a GAL is used outside of a contested custody and visitation setting.
Before granting a child’s name change, the family court judge must determine whether the name change is in the “best interest of the child.” When determining what is in the child’s best interest, the judge will consider the following factors:
- The length of time that the child has used the present surname;
- The effect of the change on the preservation and development of the child’s relationship with each parent;
- The identification of the child as part of a family unit;
- The wishes of the parents;
- The stated reason for the proposed change
- The motive of the parents and the possibility that the use of a different name will cause insecurity or a lack of identity;
- The difficulty, harassment, or embarrassment that the child may experience when the child bears a surname different from the custodial parent;
- The preference of the child if the child is of an age and maturity to express a meaningful preference; and
- The degree of community respect associated with the present and proposed surname.
Most guardians charge an hourly rate in the range of $150 to $175 per hour. If the name change isn’t contested by another person (such as father contesting a child’s name change), then the total time spent by the guardian will likely be 2 to 3 hours for interviews and time in court.