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When can I legally change my gender and name in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jul 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

Do I need a court order to change my legal gender in California?

Unfortunately, there is no simple rule and procedure for legally changing your gender in California.

A legal gender change in California usually – but not always -- starts with a California court order

However, the court will only grant you one if you have an affidavit from your physician documenting that you have undergone gender reassignment surgery. In addition, if you are under 18 years of age, you will need the approval of your parent(s) or legal guardian(s) before a court or government agency will approve the change.

Once you have the court order, you still need to change your gender on all of your legal documents. State and federal agencies each have their own standards, processes and legal documentation. The court order is merely a customary first step.

You do not, however, need a court order to change your California driver's license, social security card, or U.S. passport. You also do not need a court order to get a new birth certificate that reflects your gender change, provided you were born in California. However, you do need a court order if you also want to change your name on your birth certificate.

What if I just want to change my name?

There are two ways to change your name in California:

  • common law name change, and 
  • court-ordered name change.

A common law name changes occurs by itself when you use a new name over time. Common law name changes are legal in California. However, they are not recommended for people who have changed their gender. Even though they are recognized by California law, few government agencies accept them. The Social Security Administration, for instance, requires a court order before it will let you fill out an SS-5 form (available at www.ssa.gov) to change your name. And while your Social Security card does not list your gender, it is a good idea to have your gender updated in the Social Security system as well.

A court-ordered name change also leaves a paper trail connecting your old and new names. This can prove helpful when applying for credit, getting medical records, etc.

Note that if you are on probation or parole, or are required to register as a California sex offender, a court order is required for you to legally change your name.

What if I just want to change my California driver's license?

You do not need to have completed gender reassignment / gender correction in order to get your gender changed on your California driver's license. You simply need to fill out a form at the California DMV and provide confirmation from a physician or psychologist that you are expressing your gender identity full-time. If a physician supplies the confirmation, your gender change will be valid with the California DMV for ten years. If your psychologist completes the form, the change will be good for five years.

For more information on legally changing your gender and/or name, we recommend you contact a qualified civil attorney or legal self-help center. You can also find a great deal of information on the California courts website (linked above) and from the Transgender Law Center

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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