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In the Matter of Application of Xiangjing Zhan To Change the Name of

February 14, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF APPLICATION OF XIANGJING ZHAN TO CHANGE THE NAME OF HONGHONG ZHAN, A MINOR, TO MICHELLE HONGHONG ZHAN


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, L-5825-11.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reisner, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued January 18, 2012

Before Judges Payne, Reisner and Hayden.

The opinion of the court was delivered by REISNER, J.A.D.

In this appeal, we decide whether a permanent resident alien may obtain a legal change of name pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1 to -4 (name change statute), or whether the statute limits that relief to United States citizens. We hold that the statutory right to obtain a legal name change is not limited to United States citizens and, therefore, we reverse the trial court order dismissing appellant's application.

I

Appellant and his minor daughter are lawful permanent resident aliens. Appellant filed a verified complaint seeking to change his daughter's first name from "Honghong" to "Michelle." See R. 4:72-2 (authorizing parents to commence name change actions for their minor children without appointment of a guardian ad litem). The trial court dismissed the complaint because the minor was "not a U.S. citizen." Distinguishing Application of Pirlamarla, 208 N.J. Super. 112 (Law Div. 1985), which held that the name change statute applied to permanent residents as well as citizens, the judge reasoned that Pirlamarla was a "pre-9/11 case." Without citing any specific statutory provision or case law, the judge opined that the federal "Immigration and Naturalization Control Act" pre-empted state law on the issue of name changes, and stated his view that for security reasons, "[t]he Country needs to identify who [is] here under the names that they have."

II

On this appeal, appellant challenges the trial court's decision as contrary to the name change statute, a misconstruction of federal law, and a violation of constitutional Equal Protection and Due Process principles.

Because we agree with appellant's statutory arguments, we need not address the constitutional issues.

A

The common law allows name changes without judicial approval and without a public record of the change. Absent a criminal or fraudulent purpose, an adult can "legally and properly change his or her name at will and without need of judicial approval simply by using the desired name in ordinary life." Matter of Bacharach, 344 N.J. Super. 126, 130 (App. Div. 2001). The name change statute provides a more formal means to adopt a new name and "provides a definitive and swift procedure for public recordation." Id. at 130-31.*fn1 However, the statute is to be construed in light of the common law and does ...


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