Changing last name when gov't offices are closed due to COVID-19
July 28, 2020 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Location: San Francisco. We got married on February 29th and came back from the honeymoon just in time to get a certified copy of our marriage license, which shows I'm changing my last name to my spouse's last name. Immediately after that, San Francisco sheltered in place...

I haven't been able to update my name on my social security card because that office is closed, or with the DMV (because you have to update your SS card first). Getting very worried because I may need to fly out of the US in a few months. (Bonus: Never had a passport.) Is there anyone else in this situation right now who could offer advice or share their expierience?

I've thoroughly read (many times) the SF social security office and DMV pages, and I have the applications for updated cards filled out and saved on my computer.

Apparently you can mail in the application to update your name on your social security card if you enclose your marriage license (not a problem - we got three certified copies) and your original driver's license (yikes)! I'm not driving at all right now, so I don't technically need my license, but it's my only form of official photo ID. I'm wary of sending it into a black hole, never to get it back. I could request a replacement from the DMV if needed, but I would imagine that would take a long time to get right now, too. I tried calling the SF social security office to see if they're making in-person appointments for this sort of thing, or at least if they can advise on whether mailed name change applications are even being processed, but the phone rings a few times and then disconnects. (I also have this not-sure-if-irrational fear that in our current political / police state, not having official government photo ID available at all times could lead to Very Bad things happening.)

If I do somehow get an updated SS card: My understanding is that the SF DMV is open, but no new appointments are available. You must go into the DMV to update the name on your driver's license; there is no mail-in option. Are people still showing up and just waiting in line? I'm terrified to do this, but will if it's the only option.

Possible additional issue: The last time I renewed my driver's license, the DMV put my PO Box mailing address at the time on the license, since I didn't have a permanent residential address. I officially updated my address on the DMV website and have the printed confirmation, but I'm still worried this will cause some sort of problem(s).

If it matters: I have a "regular" driver's license, not a REAL ID.

What I'm even more worried about: I've never had a passport. I am US citizen and have never left the country except for a visit to Canada, once, pre-9/11, so no passport needed. I thought it would be easier to apply for a passport after I officially changed my name, rather than get one under my old name and have to change it later. Oh well. If I do somehow get an updated SS card and driver's license, can I still schedule an appointment at the post office for the passport application? I know application processing has slowed way down, but I think it is still happening.

Bonus question: Apparently I don't need a US passport to fly OUT of the US? How does this work? Can I go through security into the international terminal of SFO with only my driver's license? Would I be able to board the plane? I understand I would run into trouble at my destination country (complicated - it's Australia, where my spouse also has citizenship in addition to the US, but that doesn't mean I can just show up there with her. We both live and work in SF right now).

A bigger question: Is my current legal last name officially (spouse's last name) just by virtue of the marriage certificate? If yes, am I committing fraud (or worse?) by voting and/or potentially traveling with documents under my "old" last name? In a sane version of this country, I wouldn't give these things a second, thought, but, you know.

Jeez, what a mess. If anyone is dealing with this right now, I would appreciate your input / shared experiences immensely. Sorry for the wall of text. I am so anxious about all of this.

Also feel like I have to note: I would not be travelling for vacation, work, or anything "fun." I might be able to get expedited (?) help (?) if needed based on the reason, but I would rather try to get everything in place (name changed on documents, etc.) first. I've read through the official Australian travel page, but everything is weird now.
posted by Munching Langolier to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry you're dealing with this! The only input I have is that the airline will almost definitely not let you board the flight without a passport. (You will need it to enter the destination country, and the airline has a vested interest in knowing that you will be able to enter, because otherwise they have to fly you back home.)

I have a friend who was denied boarding once because she didn't have her passport, even though she would have had it by the time she left the country (it's complicated -- she left it behind accidentally at her layover airport and was going to pick it up on the way back).
posted by mekily at 3:01 PM on July 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

So much to juggle, I'm sorry! My only contribution is re: the DMV - field offices have reopened (at least for now) so yes, you can just go stand in line (though I totally understand why that's not desirable). If you haven't already seen this page, wait times for the SF DMV are here. And this is an anecdotal report of visiting the Hollywood DMV a few days ago.

I'd also recommend that you just keep checking every few days to see if new appointments have reopened. (Another total anecdote is that I had a mid-May appointment at another Bay Area DMV for a REAL ID that was cancelled once the pandemic hit and was rescheduled last month for late August, so they are working through the backlog, but I have no idea how long it will take.)

Best wishes in navigating everything!
posted by Synesthesia at 3:34 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

The marriage license says you’re *changing* your name, it doesn’t say you’re doing it right this second. Take your time. Keep your current name for a while longer, since that’s what all your ID says. There’s no hard time limit for this. People take years to get this done. You will not be committing fraud. Also obviously you don’t have to get it all done at once - it’s impossible to update your passport, SS card, and license at the exact same time.

You need a valid passport to get into a non-US country, so airlines won’t let you on the plane if they don’t think the destination country will let you in.

But plenty of people don’t get passports until after they’re married! Go apply at the post office, you can make an appointment here:

One thing though: if the name on your passport is different from the name on your license, make sure the name on your plane ticket matches the ID you’re going to use. Do not book any travel as Mx Newlastname until you have ID that says Mx Newlastname in hand.
posted by mskyle at 3:42 PM on July 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Thank you for the responses - they are all so helpful. I suspected getting a plane without a passport isn't something that could really happen, so thank you for confirming.

I considered just applying for a passport with my old last name (the one on all my IDs), but I'm worried it would be fraudulent (or, at the very least, cause problems) because my marriage license shows I intend to change my name.

Specifically: If we're using the marriage license so I can enter Australia with my spouse, and I applied for/ was granted a passport after marriage but before officially changing my name - is this going to be a problem? Spouse has assured me that immigration in Australia is less awful than in the US, especially in emergency situations, but...I don't know. I'm also not sure if I should be concerned because we're a same-sex couple.

Thanks again for your answers and commiseration.
posted by Munching Langolier at 3:56 PM on July 28, 2020

I considered just applying for a passport with my old last name (the one on all my IDs), but I'm worried it would be fraudulent (or, at the very least, cause problems) because my marriage license shows I intend to change my name.

I filled in the CA marriage license with my hypothetical new last name and then never went through with changing it for various reasons. It's now 7 years later and I'm still merrily going about my business with my original name, including traveling to foreign countries and renewing my passport. Nobody I run into, even in an official capacity, has any idea that I filled out the marriage license just in case I wanted to take my spouse's name. Nor have they questioned the fact that we're married despite our last names (but we're a straight couple, so I wouldn't know about specific difficulties you might run into). I do carry a photocopy of the finalized license with me, but I've never needed to pull it out (again, unsure about difficulties a same-sex couple might run into, especially internationally).

You won't be able to travel internationally without a passport, but they won't care that you are planning on changing your name when you apply for one. Once you do change your name officially, you'll either apply for a passport name update (if it's within the year of your passport being issued) or you'll have to pay to renew it early: Change or correct a passport

If you are really planning on flying out of the US in a few months, I'd put that application in now, considering all the processing delays. Then worry about the name change later.
posted by phatkitten at 4:15 PM on July 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

You are not committing fraud by applying for a passport or using your ID under your old name. Marriage licenses (and divorce decrees, ask me how I know!) indicate that you intend to change your name and basically just allow you to bypass the hurdles of a non-marriage-related legal name change, but you still have to do the legwork to get it actually changed on your Social Security records, license, and banking.

In your shoes, I would just get the passport in your original, non-married name and do all the legwork to change it later, especially if you need to travel soon.

TL;DR: phatkitten has it.
posted by bedhead at 4:43 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Passport processing normally takes 6-8 weeks. However, as of this week, the US passport office has a backlog of 1.23 million applications. They are issued almost 200,000 last week but received 143,000 new applications. I don't know what their usual backlog looks like but you should probably get your application in now and expect it to take a lot longer than usual - even longer if the country has to shut down further if the coronavirus continues to be out of control.

The only people who can expedited processing is if you are leaving within 72 hours for a life or death emergency. Life-or-death emergencies are serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, sibling, and grandparent) that require that you travel within in the next 72 hours. You would need proof of the emergency and proof of the planned travel.
posted by metahawk at 4:52 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Per Washington Post's "Talk About Travel" chat:

If anyone is worried about being able to receive their passport in time of a trip - reaching out to your local Congressman or senator helped me. After growing increasingly worried that the passport I applied for back in March wasn't going to get to me on time, I researched to see if others had the concern. Lo and behold, I came across a group page on social media and others reported that reaching out to your local Congressperson/senator may work. It did! Within 2 days, someone from a closed passport center reached out to me and let me know that my application is under review and a second representative called the next day and informed me that it was shipped! I received my child's new passport exactly 2 weeks before our departure! Huge shout out to Congressman Gerald Connolly!
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:56 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

The name on the marriage license doesn’t matter.

Because of some rules the clerk in Palm Springs almost certainly made up on the spot, my now wife’s name on our license application has a name we never for second planned on using, and the official Riverside County document we received in the mail didn’t include the bullshit name we made up anyway, so there is a chance the name you think is on there isn’t actually present.

But, the part of this I would worry about the most would be the fact that the majority of the world isn’t letting travelers with US passports into their country because of COVID-19. You will need to get the airline to confirm ahead of time they will let you on the plane. DO NOT look up the rules and assume you are good to go because of your spouse’s citizenship. My sister deals with travelers in distress for a major cruise line, and she gets hysterical “I showed the gate attendant a print out of the rules from and they DIDN’T CARE!!!!” calls once or twice a week. Australia isn’t going to decide if you can get on that plane, the airline is.
posted by sideshow at 7:22 PM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Contacting your Congress people might work if you had applied back in March, but it will not help you get a passport faster if you apply right now. In 2007, there were similar processing delays and none of my representatives could help me.

Don’t book non refundable tickets without your passport in hand.
posted by soelo at 7:56 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

phatkitten is correct. I have a different last name on my marriage license (married in Alameda County, CA in 2019) and as soon as the license was processed I decided not to change my name when understanding the hassle name changes entailed. I talked to a lawyer to get a legal opinion on the issue and ask if the name on the marriage license was ever legally binding for anything. Her response to me was no and she told me not to worry about it, in so many words.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 8:51 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

But, the part of this I would worry about the most would be the fact that the majority of the world isn’t letting travelers with US passports into their country because of COVID-19. You will need to get the airline to confirm ahead of time they will let you on the plane

This is important - the airline is the first gatekeeper. They generally check both passports and visas to ensure that you have the right to enter your destination country and in any sort of edge case or unfamiliar situation they are likely to refuse. (I've had at least one issue with someone in a smaller airport looking for a Schengen visa that I don't think I can even get as an EU citizen. Luckily the supervisor was more clued in.)

If you haven't already you should also probably consider contacting the Australian embassy/consulate to see if they would require anything other than a marriage cert, and whether they can help with the airline if necessary.
posted by scorbet at 6:54 AM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

« Older Secret smiles   |   Help me find sultry/breathy indie songs by male... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments