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Gender Transition:
A Step-by-Step Guide to Legal Name and Gender Change

Candy Cotton

This guide is designed to help transgender individuals in Spokane County Washington understand their legal rights in Washington State. It is not meant to provide legal advice. 

The current legal system assumes individuals identify as one gender, either male or female. While this guide provides an understanding of the current legal system, RAC recognizes that many people do not identify as male or female. A person may identify or express as a specific gender, both genders, or neither gender. 

In Washington, any person over the age of 18 can choose and use any name they wish, if the purpose of the name change is not to commit fraud. There are two ways to change your name in Washington.

Through what is called a “common law name change,” a person may simply change their name by using a new name consistently and exclusively for all purposes. This method is free and easy. But because many government institutions require documentation proving that a valid name change has been made, simply using a new name may not create the kind of solid paper trail needed to change important identifying documents and transact some important business matters.
To make a formal name change that can be used for all purposes, a person should, if possible, change their name by court order. This requires the requesting individual to file a Petition for Name Change and ask a judge to sign an Order for Name Change. While the process is uniform across Washington counties, counties may charge different fee amounts for a name change. Individuals must also pay a recording fee to record the name change with the county auditor. Low-income individuals, however, may qualify for a fee waiver for all fees including the filing and recording fees.
To start a name change, you must contact the District Court in the county where you live to obtain the forms for a name change. After you file the Petition for Name Change, the court clerk will schedule a date when you can appear before a judge or a court commissioner. Judges should allow a name change so long as they are convinced that the purpose of the change is not to evade debts or the authorities.

Name and Gender Change Document Checklist

Name and Gender Change Document Package

Example of Physician's letter

Know Your Rights


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