TN 5 (10-11)

PR 02705.044 Rhode Island

A. PR 11-160 Use of Rhode Island Civil Union Documents as Name Change Documents

DATE: September 28, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

A Rhode Island civil union certificate issued on or after July 1, 2011 is acceptable evidence of a name change.

2. OPINION

This memorandum is in response to your request for an opinion concerning the use of Rhode Island civil union documents as proof of a name change. See 2011 R.I. Pub. Laws 11-198 (enacting the Rhode Island civil union statute, R.I. GEN. LAWS § 15-3.1 (2011), effective July 1, 2011). Specifically, you requested an opinion as to whether Rhode Island state law allows an individual to change his/her legal name after entering into a civil union in Rhode Island, and if so, whether there are any restrictions on such name changes and whether the individual must take any additional action to change his/her name to conform with Rhode Island state law after entering into a civil union. You also requested an opinion as to the procedures for dissolution of a Rhode Island civil union and the type of document(s) that would allow the Agency to change a name back to a former name in the event of the dissolution of a civil union. As set forth below, an individual may change his or her name for any reason in Rhode Island. A Rhode Island civil union certificate may be used in the same manner as a Rhode Island marriage certificate as proof of a name change in Rhode Island. No action is necessary to effectuate a name change other than usage, and the only restriction on a name change is that the name change cannot be made for a fraudulent purpose. A civil union is dissolved in the same manner as a marriage, and a civil union dissolution decree may also be used as proof of a name change.

Analysis

Rhode Island follows the common law with respect to name changes, under which a person may lawfully change his or her name without resort to any legal proceedings where such a change is not made for a fraudulent purpose. Traugott v. Petit, 404 A.2d 77, 78-79 (1979). While the state has a statute concerning name change in divorce (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-17), the statute is simply an option that aids the common law and avoids unnecessary, duplicative court proceedings, and does not require divorced people who wish to change their names to request that the divorce decree encompass the name changes; to do so would impose upon them an undue burden on their common law right to nonfraudulently change their names. T~, 404 A.2d at 78-79. Therefore, under Rhode Island law, an individual may change his or her name for any reason (so long as such a change is not made for a fraudulent purpose), including based on entering into a Rhode Island civil union or the dissolution of a Rhode Island civil union.

Under common law, a name change is effectuated simply by use of the new name. 57 Am. Jur. 2d Name § 16 (2011); Corpus Juris Secundum, vol. 65, § 21 (2000). Thus, any document showing use of the new name could conceivably serve as an indication that a name change has occurred. See, e.g., R.I. Code R. § 44-1-3:V (notification of name change “in writing” for Rhode Island Board of Landscape Architects); R.I. Code R. § 11-4-10:8 (notification of name change “in writing” for Rhode Island Real Estate Appraisers); R.I. Code R. § 23-1-20:3 (applicant may simply check “name change” as the purpose for submission of voter registration card); Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles Form LI-1 (marriage certificate, divorce decree or court papers evidencing new name for Rhode Island driver’s license). We could find no Rhode Island legal authority requiring that an individual take additional action other than usage to change his or her name.

Further, with respect to Rhode Island civil unions, R.I. GEN. LAWS § 15-3.1-6, which became effective on July 1, 2011, provides:

A party to a civil union lawfully entered into pursuant to this chapter shall have all the rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative rules, court decisions, the common law, or any other source of civil or criminal law as people joined together pursuant to chapter 15-3 [concerning marriages].

Rhode Island permits the use of a marriage certificate as proof of a name change. See, e.g., Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles Form LI-1 (concerning name changes for driver’s licenses). Therefore, since Rhode Island accepts a marriage certificate as proof of a name change, R.I. GEN. LAWS § 15-3.1-6 will require that Rhode Island also accept a civil union certificate. Accordingly, a name change request based upon a Rhode Island civil union certificate should be processed in the same manner as a name change request based upon a Rhode Island marriage certificate.

With respect to the dissolution of a Rhode Island civil union, R.I. GEN. LAWS § 15-3.1-9 provides, “In all relevant respects, the dissolution of civil unions shall follow the procedures and be subject to the substantive rights and obligations outlined in chapter 15-5” [concerning divorce and separation]. Thus, Rhode Island’s statutes concerning divorce from the bond of marriage apply equally to a Rhode Island civil union. See also R.I. GEN. LAWS § 15-3.1-6