Reversal: US citizenship not required to obtain a name change

Citizenship in the United States is not required in order to obtain a name change, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday, reversing a trial court and ruling for two transgender men.

After coming to the US from Mexico as children with their families, Jane Doe and R.A.C. each respectively received a grant of deferred action under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. R.A.C has a pending petition for a visa, while Doe became a lawful permanent resident in 2016.

Although the Marion Circuit Court found that the men’s respective petitions for a name change were made in good faith and not for fraudulent or unlawful purposes, the court noted it could not grant their petitions because the men were not able to prove U.S. citizenship so the court was constrained by Indiana Code § 34-28-2-2.5(a)(5).

In a consolidated appeal, the men argued that they were statutorily entitled to a name change regardless of their citizenship status and that the trial court’s interpretation of the statute would render it unconstitutional on several grounds. Upon intervening in the case, the state argued that while the statutory provision at issue is facially constitutional, it was unconstitutional as applied.

At first blush, the statute appears to require proof of United States citizenship before a name change may be granted. Such an interpretation, however, not only leads to constitutional problems — as acknowledged by the State — but is counter to the history of liberally allowing nonfraudulent name changes in Indiana and the overall framework of the name change statutes,” Judge Robert Altice wrote for the unanimous panel in the case of In The Matter of The Name Change Of: Jane Doe, et al., 19A-MI-02166.

“… (I.C.) § 34-28-2-2.5(a) provides a list of information to be submitted with a name change petition for an individual who is at least seventeen years of age. We interpret this provision as requiring submission of the enumerated information whenever possible. Where a petitioner is unable to provide certain information, however, the petitioner is relieved from the necessity to produce it. For example, a homeless person is not precluded from seeking a name change simply because they cannot provide a current address as required by subsection (a)(2). Similarly, here, Petitioners are unable to provide proof that they are United States citizens. Therefore, they are absolved of providing such proof,” the appellate court wrote.

Thus, the appellate court found that a trial court is required to recognize the name change so long as the petitioner, a natural person at least 17 and not subject to the specific exclusions in I.C. § 34-28-2-1.5, establishes that the name change is not being sought for fraudulent purposes.

“The trial court indicated that it could easily grant the petitions if it were not for the citizenship requirement that it believed existed in subsection (a)(5) of I.C. § 34-28-2-2.5. Having concluded that the applicable statutes do not require United States citizenship in order to obtain a name change, we remand with instructions for the trial court to grant Petitioners’ respective petitions for a name change,” it concluded.

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