Boon for NJ’s trans community: Name changes don’t have to be published in newspapers anymore
New Jersey residents who seek legal name changes no longer have to take out ads in newspapers to announce the move.
The rule amendment from the New Jersey Supreme Court is seen as a major win for transgender individuals who, according to advocates for the transgender community, often cite financial hardship when attempting to legally change their identity documents, and safety concerns making their transgender status public.
"Removing the requirement for people to publish name changes in the newspaper gives transgender and nonbinary people the dignity and privacy that they deserve," added Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality. "We know transgender (individuals) face some of the highest rates of violence in the country."
LGBTQ advocates discourage "deadnaming" — referring to a transgender person by a former name — both as a matter of respect and safety. They instead encourage addressing transgender people by the identities they currently hold. Style guides used by most news publications require the same, only discussing a person's transgender status or former identity when it's strictly necessary for a fair understanding of a story.
By being required to publish their name changes, Fuscarino said, transgender people were forced to put themselves "in a dangerous situation" — drawing attention to and outing themselves, often to hostile or even violent people who would have been otherwise unaware.
Getting a court-ordered name change still requires a $250 fee, and one may need to hire an attorney to navigate through the process. Prior to this rule change, applicants needed to publish their plans in newspapers ahead of a hearing dates, and then publish the final judgments.
Fuscarino said for most individuals, depending on where they live in the state, that could mean an additional $700 to $1,000 to complete a legal name change.
According to Legal Services of New Jersey, the application notice in the paper gave other individuals the chance to object to name changes. With name-change applications, courts mainly want to make sure an applicant isn't trying to avoid legal trouble or commit fraud.
New Jersey is the 18th U.S. jurisdiction to remove name-change publication requirements. Garden State Equality, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the law firm Lowenstein Sandler submitted comments in October 2020 to Supreme Court committees considering the rule change.
The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund noted that its clients have experienced significant hardship due to the pandemic. Among the fund's name-change clients, average income has decreased 11% to $873 per month, and unemployment increased from 41% to 58%, it said.
Earlier this year, the state made it easier for transgender individuals to change the gender on their driver's license.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.