On May 28, 2019, Michael Poreda delivered comments to the New Jersey Supreme Court supporting proposed rules that would entitle minors to private name changes. The Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns proposed the new rules with the interests of trans-identified, non-binary, and gender non-conforming youth in mind.
Currently, the law requires all minors and adults to publish notice of a name change twice in local newspapers. These notices may go onto the internet and remain there for years. A simple Google search could discover the name change and expose trans people to discrimination.
In Recommendation 2019:13, the Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns (SCCMC) recommended that, in the matter of name changes of minors heard in the Family Part, the Court should adopt the following statewide practices in the interest of procedural fairness and access to justice:
Use of initials and sealing of all unredacted records;
Waiver of the publication requirement;
The option of summary judgment on the papers where no best interest hearing is required.
Several organizations including the New Jersey Bar Association and the ACLU of New Jersey submitted written comments in support of the Recommendation.
But the New Jersey Conference of Presiding Family Judges submitted partial dissent. The Conference opposed allowing applicants to proceed using only their initials, stating that it is “not feasible in terms of case tracking, data integrity, and quality assurance.” The Conference also did not agree that the publication requirement should be waived in cases where both parents did not consent to the name change.
Transgender individuals are subject to widespread discrimination and violence. It is of utmost importance that the legal process involved in affirming a trans child’s gender identity not subject them to any heightened risk of discrimination or violence.
Michael took particular issue with the Conference of Presiding Family Judges’s opaque statement that using initials only is “not feasible.” In practice, some courts are more open than others to the practice of using initials only. Celeste Fiore, Esq. of Argentino Family Law and Child Advocacy in Montclair, who also spoke in support of the proposed rule, recounted an experience where two different county courts, on the same day, came to different opinions about proceeding using initials only. In the court that opposed using initials only, the name change process took eight months to complete. In Michael’s experience, the resistance to using initials appears to be related to the format of the courts’ computer docketing system. Michael asked the Court not to allow the safety of particularly vulnerable children to become a less important priority than avoiding the hassle of fixing a computer glitch.
Regarding the publication requirement, Michael pointed out that some children have parents who are absent from their lives due to abuse or neglect. The publication requirement only puts non-consenting parents on theoretical notice of the name change anyway. Michael stated that trans children’s right to safety is greater than the rights of absent parents to mere theoretical notice of the name changes of their estranged children.
If you have concerns about making sure your name change is done confidentially, call us for a free consultation