TN 13 (02-20)

PR 02720.039 OHIO

PR 19-216

Date: November 4, 2019


SSA does not recognize affidavits or the use of a requested name based on an Ohio Common Law marriage as acceptable evidence under SSA policy to change an individual's name on SSA records.


a. Issue Presented

You asked whether an application for a name change can be effectuated based on an Ohio common law marriage as evidenced by affidavits and use of the requested name.

Summary Answer

No, the documents submitted do not constitute acceptable evidence of a name change under SSA policy. Consequently, the field office should deny the application for name change.


In 2019, number holder BW (hereinafter “NH”) applied for a replacement SSN card that reflected a change of her last name to K, based upon her common law marriage to WK, now deceased. In support of her request, NH submitted a Statement of Marital Relationship (Form SSA-754-F4), containing details of their relationship, including that she and Mr. K lived together in a husband and wife relationship in Ohio from 1974 until his death in 2001 and that they had four children together.


NH also submitted the following evidence:

  • a document from the Ford Motor Company, listing “BW-K” as the surviving spouse of Mr. W;

  • an unexpired Ohio driver’s license in the name “BBK”;

  • a health insurance card in the name “BBK”;

  • Mr. W's 2001 death certificate listing “BW” as “surviving spouse” (the form asked for maiden name) and “BK” as “informant”;

  • a letter from KH, daughter of NH and Mr. K, stating that they lived together as a married couple;

  • an affidavit from KK, another daughter, attesting that they lived together as a married couple from before 1978 until Mr. W’s death in 2001;

  • a letter from UniCare Life & Health Insurance Company addressed to “BK” regarding survivor benefits she received as Mr. K’s spouse;

  • a bank statement in the name “BK”;

  • a life insurance explanation of benefits addressed to “BK”; and

  • an Ohio court case summary showing “WR & BBK” as defendants.


Social Security regulations provide that a number holder may request a change in personal identifying information on her SSN card, including her name. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.110. Agency policy further instructs that, in order to obtain a name change on a number holder’s SSN, the number holder must submit evidence of the name change event, the new name, and the number holder’s identity as shown on the latest Numident record.[1] See Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RM 10212.015A.

SSA recognizes a number of events as the basis for a name change, including a U.S. common law marriage. See POMS RM 10212.010. With respect to a common law marriage, SSA must “determine whether the U.S. common-law marriage document submitted is acceptable evidence of a name change event for the State where the marriage was legalized.” POMS RM 10212.030. In doing so, SSA follows statutory law, not common law. See id . The POMS does not define a “common law marriage document,” but indicates that it is “State-issued.” See id . Here, because NH’s purported marriage occurred in Ohio, we look to Ohio law.


Ohio statutorily abolished common law marriage in October 1991, but common law marriages established prior to that time remain valid. See Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.12(B). The elements of a common law marriage in Ohio entered into prior to October 1991 are: (1) an agreement to marry in praesenti (i.e., in the present); (2) cohabitation as husband and wife; and (3) the treatment and reputation as being husband and wife in the community and circle in which the couple resides.[2] See Nestor v. Nestor, 472 N.E.2d 1091, 1094 (Ohio 1984). Accordingly, for common law marriages established in Ohio prior to October 1991, Ohio recognizes a name change based on that common law marriage. See, e.g., id. at 1096 (commenting that common law wife could change name or retain maiden name); Markley v. Hudson, 54, N.E.2d 304, 305 (Ohio 1944) (noting name change resulting from common law marriage).

Notwithstanding its judicial recognition of pre-October 1991 common law marriages and resulting name changes, Ohio has not statutorily recognized any common law marriage document as a basis for a name change. Moreover, current Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) rules accept only the following documents as evidence of a name change on a driver’s license or state identification card: (1) a marriage certificate or marriage license; (2) a certified copy of a decree of divorce, dissolution, or annulment of marriage; (3) a certified copy of a court ordered name change; or (4) any other genuine and reliable document verifying the person’s legal name and approved by the registrar of motor vehicles.[3] See Ohio Admin. Code § 4501:1-1-21(H); see also Ohio BMV, Acceptable Documents, (last visited October 21, 2019).

Thus, it appears that, in order to obtain official state recognition of a name change based on common law marriage in Ohio, the individual would need to either file a petition for a name change and obtain a court order,[4] or provide a “genuine and reliable document” that has been approved by the registrar of motor vehicles. There is no indication that NH has satisfied either requirement.

Here, NH’s submitted documentation—affidavits from family members and documents showing that she has been using the requested name—does not constitute acceptable evidence of a name change based upon common law marriage under SSA policy. Significantly, she has not submitted a “common- law marriage document” that was issued or recognized by the state of Ohio as evidence of a name change, as set forth above. See POMS RM 10212.030.

Thus, we do not believe that NH has provided sufficient evidence of a name change event as required to process a name change on the SSN card. If she still wishes to change her name on her SSN card, she must provide another document that is acceptable evidence of a name change, as discussed above. She would also need to submit to SSA evidence of her identity, as required by POMS RM 10212.015D.


For the reasons discussed above, we conclude that the documents NH submitted are not acceptable evidence of a name change under SSA policy.

Kathryn C~

Regional Chief Counsel, Region V

By: Lindsay B. P~

Assistant Regional Counsel



[1] Although, in the past, the agency looked exclusively to state law in order to determine whether a name change was valid, this policy became more restrictive in recent years due to the agency’s efforts to comply with the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA). Pub. L. No. 108-458, 118 Stat. 3638. The IRTPA required the agency to “establish minimum standards for the verification of documents or records submitted by an individual to establish eligibility for an original or replacement social security card, other than for purposes of enumeration at birth.” IRTPA § 7213(a)(1)(B).

[2]Should NH seek widow’s benefits on the record of her deceased spouse, she may follow the procedures set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.726(b) and POMS GN 00305.065, with or without changing her name.

[3] As noted above, NH has already been issued an Ohio driver’s license in the requested name by the Ohio BMV. It is unclear how or when that name change occurred, as current Ohio BMV standards require documentary evidence as set forth above. Although NH has obtained a driver’s license in the requested name, that is irrelevant under the applicable SSA policy pertaining to a name change.

[4] Ohio law generally allows a resident to change her name by order of the probate court of the county in which she resides, upon a showing of reasonable and proper cause for the name change. See Ohio Rev. Code § 2717.01; see also POMS RM 10212.010 (court order for a name change is a name change event), RM 10212.080, RM 10212.085.

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PR 02720.039 - OHIO - 02/07/2020
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