New Bills to Remove Barriers for Transgender Michiganders Seeking Name Changes 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate on Jan. 25, 2023, at the state Capitol in Lansing. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

By Michigan Advance

August 16, 2023

BY ANNA LIZ NICHOLS, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—When a person gets married and wants to change their name on their drivers license or state ID in Michigan, they go to their local Secretary of State’s office. When a transgender Michigander wants to change their name on those documents, they go to court.

Michigan has the highest percentage in any state in the US of transgender adults without a form of ID that has the correct gender listed at 77.7% of transgender adults, according to a 2015 report from the Williams Institute in the University of California Los Angeles School Of Law. Nationally, it is estimated in the report that more than half of transgender adults, or 476,000 people, lack an accurate ID.

Legislation to make the name change process for LGBTQ+ Michiganders less costly and needlessly burdensome is expected to be introduced in the fall, state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told the Michigan Advance

State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The package is poised to alter three parts of the current rules for those petitioning a court for a name change: Requirements for publishing the court appearance to change a name, mandatory court hearings and a fingerprinting requirement.

“It’s just an issue of basic humanity and not treating certain segments of our population different than everyone else,” said Pohutsky, who will be a sponsor on the legislation. “It’s remarkably easy to change your name if you get married and I don’t understand why we don’t have the same concerns about someone changing their name at the point of marriage as we do someone who is just transitioning in their life.”

While the legislation addresses the hurdles transgender and non-binary Michiganders face, Pohutsky said ultimately the bills aim to remove archaic rules in the way of anyone seeking to change a name that doesn’t fit them for one reason or another.

Name Change After Marriage in Michigan

Recently married individuals seeking to change any element of their name officially have to get a certified copy of their marriage certificate, costing about $15 to $30

They then have to alert the Social Security office, which issues a name change on a new social security card for free. Individuals can take the needed identifying document to their local Secretary of State branch office where the cost of changing the name on a Michigan driver license after getting married is $9 and a new name on a state ID will run a person $10.

A new license or ID will be mailed to the individual.

Name Change in Michigan for any Other Reason

Meanwhile, if a person is looking to change their name in Michigan for reasons not attached to a marriage certificate, they must file a petition for a name change in their local circuit court, which costs around $175 to $200 to file. 

They also have to have lived in the county for at least one year and have to put in writing to the court “purpose showing a sufficient reason for the proposed change and that the change is not sought with a fraudulent intent”.

Michigan state law puts a presumption of guilt of attempting fraud on those who petition for a name change with a criminal record and petitioners have to rebut that presumption in court, which they may need to hire legal representation to do.

Those 22 years old and over petitioning for a name change are required to have two complete sets of their fingerprints taken at their local police station, which costs about $40. The fingerprints, petition and processing fees are then sent to the state police department to be checked against the state’s records. Michigan State Police will then send the fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation so they can compare the prints to their records. The name change process does not progress until the full fingerprinting cross-reference process concludes.

Minors need parental consent for a name change.

Individuals also are required to publish notice of the court proceeding to change their name in a local news outlet determined by the court. That notice has to include the current name of the petitioner and the proposed name, as well as the time, date and location of the hearing. The cost for publication is to be paid to the news outlet and can vary. 

In Kent County, the cost is around $110; in Wayne County, it’s about $100; and in Ingham County, it’s about $63.

If another person has “the same name, or a similar name to that which the petitioner” chooses, that other party is permitted to contest the petitioner’s name change to argue the petitioner is changing their name for fraudulent intent.

‘Onerous Burdens’ of Name Changes

Pohutsky said her legislation aims to “simplify some of the existing, frankly overly onerous burdens” of name changes. 

She said if a judge wants to order a hearing or fingerprinting for a good reason, that’s up to them, but to have an automatic process that is burdensome for the petitioner and the court, as well as very costly for the petitioner is unnecessary. Having to publish a name that doesn’t fit  a person anymore, or a deadname, is also unnecessary and harmful to Michiganders, Pohutsky said.

Beyond being disheartening to have to publish a name that is ill-fitting, many parts of the name change process can put trans Michiganders in danger, Grand Rapids Trans Foundation Executive Director Ximón Kittok said.

“There is a lot of anxiety and just safety issues with having your deadname published next to your new name.There’s a public record that ties those two together, that allows people who might want to do you harm, access to that information, which is just dangerous all around,” Kittok said.

Pohutsky said that having a name on your identification that doesn’t match how you currently present genderwise isn’t conducive to positive or seamless interactions with law enforcement when they try to identify a person at a traffic stop, for example.

The cost of going through the name change process is the biggest barrier for most of the Michiganders who seek help from the Grand Rapids Trans Foundation, Kittok said. The foundation helps non-binary and trans Michiganders through the name change process including financial assistance.

“They point blank tell us that they never thought this would happen, like they never thought they would be able to get through this process because of the financial barrier specifically,” which is about $400 without having to pay an attorney Kittok said. 

With the proposed changes under the soon-to-be-introduced legislation, Kittok said the cost of a name change could be cut in half, meaning the organization could potentially provide assistance to twice as many people.

But if you can’t self-navigate the legal process, which is the reality for most Americans, the process can enter the cost window of $500 to $1,000, Director of Advocacy & Civic Engagement at Equality Michigan Emme Zanotti said.

And the court process in and of itself can be dehumanizing for individuals whose legal name does not align with their identity, Zanotti said, having gone through the process as a trans woman.

“I was presenting and expressing as a woman. I identify as a trans woman. The judge, following procedure, read my deadname out loud in front of everybody and asked me what my intent was to change my name,” Zanotti said. 

In addition, current law makes some pretty broad assumptions about why a person may want to change their name, Zanotti said, referencing the automatic presumption of fraudulent intent should someone want to change their name, but has a criminal record. Forgotten unpaid parking tickets would put a person in the fraudulent intent category.

For many trans Michiganders, despite the difficult process of a name change, the court hearing to grant the change is a celebration, Kittok said, so false narratives that trans people go through all these hoops to get away with fraud don’t make sense.

“Getting fingerprinted for a background check, having to put your name in a publication in order for anyone who wants to come and object to your name change the opportunity to do so, all of those things have this feeling of like presumed guilt, like almost like you have to do all these things because the court and the systems in place, are assuming that you’re trying to commit fraud or something,” Kittok said. “I think for trans people, nothing could be further from the truth. They are wanting to affirm who they are, they are wanting to be safer in the spaces that they exist in.”

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance under a Creative Commons license. 

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