Sunday, October 9, 2016

My Trip Through The Central Bureaucracy: Legally Changing Your Name in Brooklyn

A few weeks ago I started the process of legally changing my name here in King's County, New York (that's Brooklyn to those of you outside the Empire State). I say "process" because it really is a process. Five visits to window 906, ten stamps, six different forms of ID, a judge playing on her cell phone, and, as I write this, it's not even done yet. So let's take a fun spin through the processing of legally changing your name in Brooklyn,

The first step involved going to the King's County Civil Court website and seeing what they said about what proof you needed to bring and where to go if you're planning on changing your name in Brooklyn.

Don't go to the website. It's wrong. Not only did they send me to the entirely wrong building, but they also neglected to mention several key pieces of ID that I had to bring. Luckily, the correct building was only a couple blocks away (you can't swing a cat in Downtown Brooklyn without hitting at least three or four court buildings).

So, after my first failure, I headed over to 141 Livingston Street, went through another metal detector and found a directory telling me to go to Room 908. Up to the 9th floor I went. Only there is no Room 908. It's actually Room 906. Luckily for me there wasn't a line, so it didn't take me longer than ten minutes to be told that I didn't have the correct documents. Here's what you actually need:
  • Driver's License or state-issued ID. 
  • Social Security Card
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of address by way of a government letter mailed to your address. Can't be a Time-Warner bill. Has to be government. Luckily I work for the government, so I regularly get healthcare and pension updates mailed to me. 
  • Notarized copy of your Adult Name Change Petition (check out this website which will guide you through the process of creating one). I got mine notarized at the UPS store for $2.00. 
Now it gets complicated. Of course it does.

I do not have a birth certificate. Okay, I did at one time. But decades ago, my hoarder father decided to put all my documents somewhere for "safe keeping." He claims he knows exactly where they are and will send them to me this week. He's been claiming this since 2002. My birth certificate is gone. And the military base where I was born is closed, which is fun because the DOD website says to contact the base hospital for a copy. My next bet is to pay the State Department $50 so they can see if they can track it down via records the Army might have issued to the German government. No guarantees. So, yeah, I have no birth certificate. Luckily, as I marked down that I was born in Germany, they accepted my passport as proof of birth. Yay!

Next, when the clerk at window 906 (it's a really a window not a room) asked if I was married, I said "Oh, I have a domestic partnership." Oh so because of that, she gave me another form for my partner to sign and notarize verifying that she was aware of, and approved of, my name change. Yep, can't do something legally without my spouse's approval - it's like I'm a woman already! So, my partner would need to do this, and bring in her ID to show the clerk and we'd have to provide a copy of of our certificate of domestic partnership.

Now, knowing this meant I was pretty much done for the day. I was gonna have take another day off, my partner was gonna have to take a day off and then we could try again.

Attempt number two went better. I got a lot further this time. In a way it's kind of like playing a video game I guess. See how far you can get before having to start over.

Well, at least this time I knew which window to go so I was able to go straight there. We had all the right documents and and it was going smoothly until the clerk saw that we had brought a photocopy of our certificate of domestic partnership instead of the original. Ugh oh. I was seriously worried that it would mean going all the way home, getting the paper and bringing it all the way back. Luckily though, all my paperwork was good! So, they sent me down the cashier on the sixth floor to pay. 

Bring cash and bring exact change. $65.00 exactly. They won't take cards and they won't make change. Don't you just love these guys?

Okay, I paid. Got the cashier to stamp my forms a few times and then went right back up to 906 again to get the payment stamps verified by the clerk so she could add some more stamps to prove those stamps were genuine. Stamp away, lady, stamp away!

The next step was to go up to 11 and an actual court room! It was the dumpiest court room you could imagine. The judge was an old lady who was sitting there playing on her phone while the clerk and the bailiff shuffled people up to the bench, gave them paperwork and sent them on their way.

What they do is they call you up, hand you paperwork that you have to read over and approve. If it's all good, then they stamp it again and send you back down to 906 for more stamping!

When I got called up, the clerk was like "Oh, I need one more piece of info - what are your parents' names?" So I told here. Then she printed out the paperwork for me to approve and it said I had to do the following things in order to get to next phase of my name change: 
  • Publish a notice of my name change in a specific Brooklyn newspaper. 
  • Send a certified copy of the order to Homeland Security. 
  • Send a certified copy of the order to Immigration and Citizenship. 
  • Send a certified copy to the Social Security Administration 
  • Send a certified copy to my parents. 
And I was like "What the fuck!" Not literally. But internally. What I literally did was go up and say "My parents? I'm thirty-six years old, I'm not beholden to my parents."

"What if you have kids?" the judge asked, looking up briefly from her phone, "There could be inheritance issues."

"I understand." was I all I said and they took it at that and removed my parents. Thankfully. While I do want to come out to my mom, this is not the way I'd like to start that conversation. Plus it just irked me that as an adult they expected me to have to inform my parents. I'm a grown up. I pay my taxes. I am not beholden to my parents, thank you.

Having won that point I didn't even want to ask why a natural born citizen would have to inform Immigration. But I had won the major battle. I can pay $2.50 to mail a letter to a government office where I'm sure they'll promptly throw it away.

Well, my first time ever being involved in a court of law now over, I headed back down to 906 one more time. Why not?

The clerk at the window looked over my paperwork and was like "Oh, you got that judge. She always makes people send notices everywhere." Chalk it up to bad luck I guess. She explained that I had to bring in the little green Certified Mail notices once I had them. I'd also have to go to the paper and publish my notice and the paper would send me a certified note of publication or something like that. I'd need to bring those in and then I would get the chance to buy certified copies of name change order ($6.00 a piece - buy at at least ten) and then my name change would be official.

So, I figured that since I had the day off, I'd head over to the paper. It was in a fairly nice office actually and I soon realized that they were one of the those companies that published like eighty different "neighborhood" papers that were 98% ads. You know the kind that you've seen but have never read? Yeah, no one else has ever read those either. They basically exist so people with birds can line the cage and so people who move can wrap up their wine glasses.

Well, they had a form ready for a name change notice, and  I paid them $55.00 (what a racket, right?!) and then waited about ten minutes. They came out with the ad copy that I had to approve. I approved it and went on my merry way. 

I still need to send out my certified letters. That's not so bad, just a trip to the Post Office which I can do on lunch. Then the paper will mail me my certification and then I can go back to Room 906 once more. 

All in all, it wasn't so bad. It was silly and bureaucratic, but at least there wasn't like a crazy line or anything. The court part took about two hours all together, once I had the right paperwork that is.  

And it's still not official, but at least the hardest part is over. Then I just have to do the DMV, a new passport, a new social security card, and lord knows what else. Every time I think I've listed everyone that needs notice I think up two more. 

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