Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Name changes for minor children

If you want to change your child's name, both parents must agree to changing the child's name.

A legal document called a Petition must be filed at the courthouse requesting that a judge change the child's name.

The judge will sign a document called an Order that officially changes the child's name permanently.
After the judge signs this document, there is more that you need to do to get a new birth certificate. You then contact the Bureau of Vital Statistics for a new birth certificate.

The cost to do this varies.  The filing with with the county is approximately $300.  If both parents are willing to sign all the papers then that will save you money.  If the other parent will not sign the paperwork to approve the child's name change then the parent needs to be served with the Petition that was filed at the courthouse opening the file.  This can cost approximately $100.

Once the other parent is served with the legal papers by a process server then they have a certain amount of time to file a legal document at the courthouse called an Answer.  A parent would normally object to the name change in the Answer.  You now have a contested case.

It is up to the judge whether or not the judge will grant a child's name change.

If there has been a case involving this child before, you will be assigned to the same judge again.

If the father objects and is active in the child's life then many judges will not do a name change.

So I highly recommend that you talk to the other parent before beginning this process.

You must have very good reasons to change a child's name.  Generally in Harris County most family court judges do not like to grant these name changes unless there is a very compelling reason.  But if both parents approve of the name change then the judge will sign the paperwork.

You then take the Order signed by the Judge and ask the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Austin to issue a new birth certificate with the new name.  To get a new birth certificate can take up to 6 months and costs approximately $65.  You must fill out all of the required paperwork from the BVS Office in order for them to issue a new birth certificate.

You can attempt to do this yourself.  It is not easy.  You might be able to find the forms at the Harris County Law Library.  You would take the master form and fill it out.  You would need to re-type the master form that you find so that it applies to your case.  You will need a Petition and an Order at the minimum.  Both parents need to sign at the bottom of the Order acknowledging that they want the name change.

If the parents don't agree then it is a contested case and there will be a trial in front of the judge.  Both of you will have to put on evidence.  If it is contested I strongly encourage you to hire an attorney.

You do not automatically get a hearing in front of the judge.  Normally you have to ask for one.  You will need to talk to the judge's head clerk to get a date for a hearing to see the judge.  Judges calendars are very busy and you might have to wait several weeks to get a court date.

I encourage people to hire a family law attorney to assist them with name changes.  They can be tricky.
Most attorneys charge at least $1,000 - $1,500 for these type of cases if uncontested.  They can take a time of attorney time.  If contested and there is going to be a hearing, then you need to anticipate spending a lot more than $1,500 - attorneys charge a lot for trials.

I hope this blog post has been helpful.

Good luck!

Ordering New Birth Certificate in Texas after an adoption

After the judge has signed the paperwork approving an adoption, you will need to get the child a new birth certificate.  This takes quite long time.  I've heard that it is taking as long as 6 months.  So be patient.

Eventually the clerk of the court will send in paperwork to Austin, Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics.  This can take up to 6 weeks since the clerks wait until they have a large stack and the forms all get mailed to Austin at one time.  You have no control over how the judge's clerks handle their correspondence with BVS.

You can get a certified copy of your decree signed by the judge.  It costs approximately $1 per page for a certified copy.  Again, it takes awhile for the papers to be scanned into the Harris County Clerk's computer.  You usually cannot get the paperwork the day that you get the adoption finalized - but sometimes you can - you just never know.  If you are in a county outside of Harris County, each county handles certified copies differently.  You will need to talk to judge's clerk or an employee of the district clerk's office to find out how to get a certified copy.

Fill out the proper forms off the Bureau of Vital Statistics website.  Send the certified copy of the court order along with $62.  Their mailing address is P O Box 12040, Austin, TX 78711.

If you have any questions, you can call the BVS office in Austin.  Hopefully they can help you.  When I have called them in the past they have been very helpful.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Houston Pro Bono (free) Attorney Clinics

Houston Pro Bono Centers

Whether your case relates to adoption, custody, divorce, support, domestic abuse or special education matters, there are people that can help for free (pro bono). 
Houston is home to several pro bono clinics, for those who are in need of free legal services. 
Check out these Houston pro bono centers:
Aid to Victims Legal Services
1001 Texas Avenue, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 224-9911
Lone Star Legal Aid1415 Fannin Street, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 652-0077
Houston Volunteer Lawyers 712 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 228-0732
University of Houston Law Center100 Law Center, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 743-2100 http://www.law.uh.edu/clinic/
Southeast Texas Legal Clinic
3400 Montrose Blvd Ste 400, Houston, Texas 77006 (713) 523-7852
Legal Advocacy and Outreach
405 Main Street, Suite 911, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 224-9911