Name Changes after Marriage in California: What's Legal?

Name Changes after Marriage in California: What’s Legal?

Did you ever wonder what name changes are legal after marriage in California? People planning to marry often want to change their names, but they aren’t sure what is legal. Fortunately, California law specifically addresses this issue.

Initially, it is important to know that California law allows both parties to a marriage to retain their names; no name change is required of either party. However, if one or both parties wish to do so, California Family Code ยง 306.5 allows them to change their middle names, last names, or both. The provisions for changing names vary slightly, depending on which name or names are being changed.

Either party to a marriage may choose from the following last names:

  • The current last name of the other spouse;
  • The last name of either spouse at birth;
  • A single last name that combines all or a portion of either spouse’s current last name or last name at birth; or
  • A hyphenated version of the parties’ last names.

The law also sets forth allowable middle name choices after marriage. As with last names, a person may choose to use his or her spouse’s last name as a middle name. Likewise, a person may adopt, as a middle name, the given last name of either spouse at birth. The remaining two options are as follows:

  • A hyphenated version of the middle and/or last names of either spouse; and
  • A hyphenated version of the middle and/or birth last names of either spouse.

In either case, the new name or names are listed on the marriage license application. By law, a certified copy of the marriage certificate serves as proof that the party either retained his or her original name or changed it legally. The same document may be used to show the person’s “true, full name” for licensure under the California Vehicle Code.

These provisions apply when the choice to change a name is made at the time the marriage certificate is issued. The only changes to the marriage license that are permitted thereafter are those to correct clerical errors. Changes due to clerical error may be made to ensure that the names on the marriage license comport with the names on the application for the license.

If a party wishes to change his or her name at a later date, these provisions do not apply. Instead, the person may apply to a superior court for a name change or may change his or her name under the provisions of California common law.

When marriage is contemplated, many legal issues arise, from name changes to prenuptial agreements. Experienced legal counsel can help you navigate these issues and structure your marital expectations commensurate with your wishes. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive legal and business experience in family law matters. Contact us today at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.