By Andrew Ain, Partner

There are many situations where an individual may wish to change their name, marriage being the most common of these. After marriage, many new spouses presume that their nuptials are the only requirement needed to allow them to legally adopt the other spouse’s surname. While many may proceed unhindered by only assuming their new married surname, the law actually requires individuals to take action in order to legally adopt it.

If you were married prior to April 1st, 1987, you may legally assume your spouse’s surname and stop reading here. If you were married after April 1st, 1987, or if you are in a common-law relationship and wish to legally adopt your spouse’s surname, there are steps you must take in order to legally do so.

First, you must be legally married or living common-law with your spouse . Second, you must decide whether you’d like to replace your birth name with your spouse’s surname or combine your birth name and married surname using a hyphen. Finally, you must comply with Ontario’s Change of Name Act. The nature of the Act is draconian in that it effectively strips you of all vestiges of your prior identity, but compliance with the Act is necessary in order to legally change your surname.

Compliance with the Act requires that you:

  • Complete and file an Election to Change Surname form. If you are common-law, you will also need to complete and file a Joint Declaration of Conjugal Relationship form. (To obtain these forms, call the Office of the Registrar General at 1-800-461-2156);
  • If you file your Election to Change Surname form within 90 days of marriage, or within 90 days of filing a Joint Declaration of Conjugal Relationship form, there is no fee. After the 90 day period there is a $25 fee;
  • If legally married, provide a copy of your Marriage Certificate, issued by the proper authority of the jurisdiction where the marriage was solemnized;
  • Provide all birth certificates and/or change of name certificates in your possession.

Following compliance with the Act, the Government of Ontario will register your change of name, note it on the birth registration and issue both a change of name certificate and a new birth certificate. If you were born outside of Ontario, the government will only register the change of name and issue a change of name certificate.

In practice, not many newlyweds or common-law couples will take these legal steps and non-compliance won’t cause them much more than minor angst. In some circumstances, however, you may need to have your lawyer complete a Change of Name Application to clear up a title problem or draft an Affidavit confirming you are the same person as named in your birth certificate.