How to change your legal name and gender markers in Georgia

 

Legally changing your name is an important element of social and legal transition, and is a way you can affirm to yourself and others a self more reflective of your true identity. There are also many advantages to changing your legal name to the name you use socially--many businesses will only let you use your legal name for accounts and services, schools and universities require your legal name to register, to get housing you need to use your legal name for a credit check and for the lease, etc. 

The process to change your name and gender markers in Georgia is not particularly difficult, but it is somewhat tedious. Changing your name and changing your gender require court orders. You can either (1) first file to change your name and then file to change your gender with two separate cases or (2) file one pleading that asks the court to change both your name and gender at the same time.

This second method is used by some jurisdictions--and I developed the pleadings after discussing this issue with the Superior Court of Richmond County--but judges that are not familiar with gender changes may be confused by them. The upside is that you save time and only have to pay one filing fee.

If you've already changed your name, then you will only need the gender change pleadings.

Samples of these three petitions are available here in Google Docs:

Wherever you see a dollar sign followed by text, like ${countywhereyoureside}, insert that text (here, the county where you reside, like "Fulton"). If you search the document for dollar signs it's pretty easy.

Georgia requires you to have undergone gender reassignment surgery in order to change your gender on your birth certificate and drivers license. The federal government does not require surgery to change the gender in your passport. They require that a physician certify that you have had "appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition."

 

what if I wasn't born in Georgia but I live here now?

You'll still need court orders. The Name Change Petition is the same but the Gender Change Petition is a bit different. Here they are:

These have the same dollar sign followed by text scheme like the above samples.

Both of these petitions ask for a decree that your name or gender has been changed. Other states will accept the Georgia court's decree and change your name or gender on your birth certificate. Before you file these, you should check with your state to see if they require any special language in the order.

 

What if I'm under 18?

You can change your name if your parents consent. O.C.G.A. § 19-12-1 describes the additional requirements for minors.

You can also change your gender markers--and it appears that the law does not require parental consent. O.C.G.A. § 31-10-23(e). But I'm unsure if a judge would issue the order without parental consent--it would probably require a careful explanation of the law and a good reason--so I've prepared the sample petition with the parental consent sections. (Otherwise you can use the adult petitions above).

Both of these petitions will seem a bit strange because one parent is the petitioner and the other is the respondent, and you need to "sue" the other parent. This is just how the case needs to be styled.

Here are the samples:

 

Changing your name in Georgia

Take your paperwork to the clerk of the superior court for the county where you reside. The clerk will help you file the paperwork but will not give you legal advice.

You need to pay two fees: a filing fee to the court and a fee to the local newspaper that will publish notice of your name change. These fees vary by county, but should be no more than $300-ish. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you can ask the court to waive the fee. You do this by filing a poverty affidavit and proposed order and then waiting for the court to grant or deny the waiver. The clerk will have a form poverty affidavit for you to complete and file.

Once you pay the fee or it is waived, the clerk will file your paperwork. Some clerks may require a case filing form (like this). Some clerks may require you file the petition, notice of petition, and proposed final decree all at once; others may only require the petition. Bring all your paperwork just in case.

The clerk may forward the notice to the newspaper to publish or that may be your responsibility: be sure to ask. The clerk may also schedule a court date for your final decree, or it may be your responsibility to contact the clerk or judge's chambers to schedule the date. Be sure to ask.

Note that many counties now have electronic filing, where you can file this paperwork online. Look for instructions on the clerk of court's webpage if you want to efile, but know that you can also go in person.

Once filed, you are required to publish notice in the "legal organ," or newspaper of record for your county, for four consecutive weeks. A list of legal organs is here; you can also ask the clerk of court. Once the newspaper has finished publishing your notice, they will mail you an affidavit saying they published the notice. I usually file the affidavit with the court--this makes it more likely that the judge will sign the order without a hearing. The law requires that you "cause a notice of the filing to be published" within seven days of the filing of the petition.

You must also wait 30 days from the filing date, although publishing notice for four weeks usually takes longer than 30 days.

Once you have the publisher's affidavit and 30 days have passed, you are ready for the judge to sign the final decree. Call the court to schedule a court date if the clerk did not schedule one for you. 

If the clerk scheduled a court date for you and you later cannot make it, call the court to reschedule. If you do not show up to your court date, the judge may dismiss your petition.

The law says that if no one objects to the name change, "the court shall proceed at chambers at such date as the court shall fix" to rule on the name change. O.C.G.A. § 19-12-1(f). I don't think anyone really pays attention to this--I've had some judges issue the order without a hearing, but other judges have held a hearing and required the petitioner to take the stand and verify the contents of the petition in open court. If you're sensitive about this, or especially anxious about testifying in open court, you could ask that the judge hold the hearing in his or her chambers and point to this section of the law.

On your court date, bring copies of your filings, the publisher's affidavit, and a photo ID. After the judge has signed and filed the final decree, get 3 or 4 certified copies from the clerk's office. You'll need them for changing your driver's license, Georgia birth certificate, and passport.

If the judge denies your petition despite you having everything in order, please email me (ryan@thelockefirm.com) or call me at 404-909-7795.

 

Changing your drivers license

To change your name:

You'll need a certified copy of the court order, and you must go to DDS within 60 days of the final order. You will also need to bring the other documents that you normally need to renew your drivers license (refer to the DDS page here). The renewal fee is $20 and you will need to surrender your old license.

To change your gender:

You can either bring a certified copy of both the name change and gender change court orders OR a letter from a doctor certifying that you have had a "gender reassignment operation." The law does not define what a "gender reassignment operation" is, so chest surgery, orchiectomy, hysterectomy and the like will work. The letter can be from any doctor familiar with your treatment, not just the surgeon who actually performed the operation. A sample letter is here.

You will also need to bring the other documents that you normally need to renew your drivers license (refer to the DDS page here). The renewal fee is $20 and you will need to surrender your old license.

You can change your name and gender on your drivers license at the same time.

If they refuse to change your ID:

First, ask to see a manager, tell them you have the documents they need, and demand that they change your ID. If they refuse again, try a different location (you can go to any DDS location in any county to change your name and gender). If you are refused twice, or if they say that they will not accept a doctor's letter, please email me at ryan@thelockefirm.com.

 

Changing the gender on your birth certificate

You must first be granted a name change before you can be granted a gender change. You can either (1) first file to change your name and then file to change your gender with two separate cases or (2) file one pleading that asks the court to change both your name and gender at the same time.

This second method is used by some jurisdictions, but judges that are not familiar with gender changes may be confused by them. The upside is that you save time and only have to pay one filing fee.

If you use the combo filing, follow the procedure for the name change, above. If you only need to change your gender, the process is nearly the same as changing you name--and you'll be familiar with it because you are required to change your name by court order before you can change your gender through court order. The main difference is that you do not need to advertise in the legal organ for a gender change like you did for your name change.

Once the court issues an order changing your gender, get a certified copy from the clerk of court and gather together:

  • A cover letter (sample here);
  • The certified copy of the court order(s);
  • A copy of your birth certificate;
  • A money order for $35 (add $5 for each certified copy you need).

Send the package to:

State Office of Vital Records

1680 Phoenix Boulevard, Suite 100

Atlanta, GA 30349

The processing time is 8 to 10 weeks.

They also have walk-in service where they'll amend your birth certificate the same day.

If they refuse to change your birth certificate or ask for more information, please email (ryan@thelockefirm.com) a copy of their response to me.

 

Changing your passport

To change your name, the federal government will accept the court order.

To change your gender, the government requires either a certified copies of the court orders or a letter from a doctor. Unlike Georgia, the federal government does not require that you undergo surgery to change your gender. They only require that you have received "appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition" and will accept a letter from a doctor familiar with your treatment (sample letter here).

If the doctor certifies that your gender transition is "in progress" then the government will issue you a passport valid for 2 years. If your gender transition is "complete" then you get a passport valid for 10 years. Whether your transition is complete is between you and your doctor--passport workers are not permitted to question you about it--so I recommend asking your doctor to write that your transition is complete.

If you are only changing your name you can mail everything to the address on the passport correction form.

If you are changing your gender or have never had a passport, you need to apply in person at the post office.

If you have never had a passport bring:

  • Certified copy of the court order OR your doctor's letter
  • A completed passport form (Form here) (State Department's passport wizard here).
  • Your original birth certificate or naturalization certificate
  • Current ID, such as driver's license. This can have your old name or incorrect gender.
  • Photocopies of the birth certificate and ID
  • A passport photo (details about specifications here)
  • A check or money order for the $110 fee.

If you are correcting or updated your passport, bring:

You'll receive your passport in the mail in 4 to 6 weeks. You can expedite the processing and delivery of your passport with additional fees. The fee schedule is here.

 

Changing your marriage RECORD

This one is a bit complicated.

A marriage record can be amended, but only by the judge of the probate court of the county in which the license was issued. O.C.G.A. § 31-10-23(a). This means that you'll need to file a petition in that probate court.

You'll follow the same general process as the name change and gender change, except:

  1. You don't need to publish anything; and
  2. You need to have the person you're married to be served with a copy of the petition or acknowledge service.

Here's a sample Petition to Amend Marriage Record.

###

I know what you're thinking: More petitions? Total pain, right? BUT WAIT!

The smartest minds at Locke Law Firm have cooked up a completely theoretical process to combine the gender change and marriage license amendment into ONE PETITION!!!!!

The name change has to be filed in a superior court becuase only superior sourts have jurisdiction for name changes under O.C.G.A. § 19-12-1(a).

But the State Office of Vital Records will change the gender in your birth certificate "upon receipt of a certified copy of a court order." O.C.G.A. § 31-10-23(e). This means that you could ask the probate court to issue an order changing your gender AND changing the name on your marriage license.

The Probate Court might have the power to do this because O.C.G.A. § 15-9-30(a)(11) grants probate courts jurisdiction over "all matters as may be conferred on them by the Constitution and laws."

So the argument is that the probate court has the jursdiction to order Vital Records to change the gender in a birth certificate becuase the law mandates that Vital Records accept any court's order. 

Quick FAQ:

Is this a correct interpretation of the law?

Maybe. You could probably charitably describe it as "creative" or incharitably as "tortured."

Will it confuse the Probate Court?

Most definitely.

Are you sure it will work?

At best it's a coin toss, but I want to see what happens.

So if you want to to test this out, email me (ryan@thelockefirm.com).

###