New Jersey Supreme Court Relaxes Legal Name Change Rules

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently amended its rules governing the legal name change process. The changes to Rule 4:72-3 (Notice of Application) and 4:72-4 (Hearing; Judgment; Publication; Filing) eliminate the requirement of newspaper publication of the notice of application and judgment granting a name change.

Under the prior rule, individuals seeking a legal name change were required to publish a Notice of Application in a newspaper of general circulation in the county of their residence once, at least two weeks preceding the date of the hearing. Once the name change was approved by the court, individuals also had to publish the judgment stating their new name in the newspaper. Advocates for the rule change argued that the requirements created safety concerns, forced members of the LGBTQ+ community to effectively “out” themselves, and imposed financial burdens.

According, the amendments to Rule 4:72-3 and Rule 4:72-4 are intended to remove barrier for those seeking to legally change their names, including transgender and non-binary individuals. “The Court’s November 17, 2020 action will expand equal access to the courts for people who are poor, self-represented, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, including transgender women of color who disproportionately continue be targeted victims of violence throughout our nation,” the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Notice states. “Amending Rule 4:72 advances the Judiciary’s goals of equal access, procedural fairness, and ongoing identification and elimination of obstacles to justice.”

The Supreme Court Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (formerly the Committee on Minority Concerns) in its 2017-2019 biennial report recommended eliminating the requirement of publication in minor name change actions in order to protect the privacy and safety of transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary youth who seek a name change in affirmation of their gender identity. The Supreme Court Family Practice and Civil Practice Committees subsequently endorsed and expanded the proposal to eliminate the publication requirement for both minors and adults, citing the general barriers the publication requirement also imposes on self-represented litigants and litigants of limited economic means in addition to the safety and privacy concerns of transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary adults.

New Jersey is the 18th state to remove the name change publication requirement. The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) applauded the change. “We applaud the New Jersey Supreme Court for recognizing the safety and privacy considerations that are often barriers for transgender name change petitioners,” TLDEF said in a press statement. “Removing the publication requirement for name changes not only makes the process more accessible and affordable to those who need it, but also removes the safety burden of publicizing private and personal information. At a time when violence against our community continues to break records, granting legal name changes and protecting private medical information will save lives.”

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