Rhode Island House Passes Bill to Simplify Name Change Process

Bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Craven and Sen. Tiara Mack to remove barriers and safety risks for transgender people and domestic violence survivors seeking a legal name change now goes to Gov. McKee

Last night the Rhode Island House passed “An Act Relating to Probate Practice and Procedure—Practice in Probate Courts” (H. 8155) — a bill championed by advocates for LGBTQ+ people and survivors of domestic violence — by a vote of 68-2. Having been passed by the Senate earlier this month, the legislation now heads to Gov. McKee’s desk.

Sponsored by Reps. Robert Craven, Justine Caldwell, and Carol Hagan McEntee, H. 8155 simplifies the process for Rhode Islanders seeking to legally change their name by updating the statute on name change during divorce to be gender inclusive, allowing name change court costs to be waived for those who can’t afford them, removing the requirement for public notice or publication of a name change, and allowing name change records to be kept confidential if doing so is warranted by the person’s safety needs.

These reforms will alleviate barriers and safety risks for survivors of domestic violence and transgender people, two groups of Rhode Islanders who often seek legal name changes.

A companion Senate bill (S. 2667) sponsored by Sens. Tiara Mack, Melissa Murray, and Samuel Bell passed by a vote of 36 to 1 on May 7.

“We thank the House for taking this pivotal step toward simplifying Rhode Island’s name change process so that it’s more accessible to vulnerable residents,” said Polly Crozier, attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “A legal name change makes it possible for transgender people’s identity documents to reflect their lived reality, enabling them to live more safely and freely and reducing barriers in important activities like applying for a job, making purchases, or even getting a library card. This legislation will allow transgender Rhode Islanders to obtain a legal name change without undue financial burdens or needing to out themselves to their local community via a public notice, which could invite harassment or discrimination. We’re grateful to Representative Craven for steering this bill through the House and for Senator Mack’s leadership in the Senate.”

“If an individual wishes to change their name, it should be an easy and simple process and not an overly complicated endeavor,” said Representative Craven. “This legislation will help relieve anxiety for applicants while also embracing an inclusive approach to support Rhode Island’s diverse population, including protections for those who may be harassed or persecuted for their gender or sexual identities and for victims of domestic violence.”

“This update in law will provide a more inclusive and easier process for Rhode Island’s residents who wish to change their name,” said Senator Mack. “The bill will also offer better protection for individuals who seek to change their name due to safety or other concerns. Nationwide attacks on the LGBTO+ community have left many communities with little hope for state legislatures to produce bills that protect rather than harm. As our society continues to evolve to a more inclusive and diverse whole, we must update our laws to reflect these changes and show solidarity for our LGBTQ+ neighbors, which this piece of legislation does.”