Pennsylvania allows applications for a legal change of name via petition to the court. One of the requirements for a name change which must be submitted with the petition is the petitioner's fingerprints. The fingerprints are subsequently submitted to the Pennsylvania State Police to check for any prior criminal offenses as defined in 18 Pa. C.S. Ch. 91 (criminal history record information). The State Police will then report back to the court if they are subject to 18 Pa. C.S. Ch. 91 or not. Existence of a criminal background does not always defeat a name change application. The court may still approve a name change if over 2 years have passed from the completion of the criminal sentence with no remaining obligations (e.g. probation or parole) or the person has been pardoned. The State Police will have to update the criminal history record to reflect where a name change has been granted for a convicted felon.
When requesting a name change of a minor, in addition to the publication requirements for all name change petitions, you must also prove service on the non-petitioning parent. If the other parent does not agree with the name change, the court must decide after hearing from the parties. There is no standard in the name change statute as far as what the court should be considering. Instead, a standard has been established through case law on prior name change matters. Similar to custody matters, a name change of a minor should only be granted if it is in the child's best interests. The party requesting the name change has the burden of proof and must convince the court how the requested change would serve the child's best interests.
There are many reasons why someone may want to change their name. It could be they have never really bonded with their parent and want a new last name. It may be that they wish to change their name for business purposes. Perhaps, they are from another country and want to change it formally to another name. Maybe they have always used a different first name. Whatever the reason, in most instance, when someone wants to change their name, they will have to file a Petition for a Name Change with the Court. The costs involved can sometimes be unexpected. In addition to paying for the filing fee that court charges to file the petition, there are fees to have fingerprinting done by the State Police. The Court will also do a credit check. In instances where someone is trying to change their name to escape from the stigma of a criminal record or from creditors, the Court will often deny the petition. There are also fees for publication in both a newspaper of local general circulation as well as in a legal paper. In addition, notice must be given, usually by personal service or certified mail to anyone whose interest may be adverse to the change of name (normally a parent who gave them the name). A change of name in the legal sense under these circumstances requires attendance at a hearing even if the parents do not dispute the change of name. This means that there will be lawyer fees on top of all the out of pocket expenses. Of course, when you remarry or divorce, you do not have to go through the Petition to Change a name. When you marry, you may automatically adopt the name of your spouse and if you divorce, there is a much cheaper option to file for a name change called a Notice to Retake your maiden name that does not require a hearing or publication and usually only a nominal filing fee. It can be done whether a person is an adult or a child. If it is a child, the parent must petition on the child's behalf. In all circumstances, the court will weigh the reasons for the change, an in many cases, a name change will be granted when there is good reason or no opposition.
Adults seeking to legally change their name will need to file a petition with the court. In addition to completing the petition, the party should be prepared to pay a filing fee directly to court at the time of filing as well as supply a copy of their fingerprints. Fingerprinting can be done by the local police department where the filing party resides. The purpose of the fingerprinting is to allow for analysis of any criminal background, if applicable. The name change statute does not allow a change of name if certain crimes have been committed. A search through the Prothonotary's office and Recorder of Deeds will also need to be done prior to a successful name change to ensure there are no other concerns which may bar the application for a name change.