The 'Real ID' law: A view from the bench

Marissa McDermott

About eight months ago, we started to notice it: the court was suddenly being flooded with filings from people seeking to change their names, correct their marriage certificates and correct their birth certificates. The cause of this sudden deluge soon became clear: the new “Real ID” law.

The Real ID law is not actually new. Signed into law in 2005, this federal law requires states to comply with increased identification standards in an effort to combat terrorism. By October 2020, you will not be able to board an airplane or enter a federal building without a Real ID (or a valid passport). How can you tell if your Indiana license or ID card is already compliant? If you don’t see a star in the upper right hand corner of your license or ID card, you will need to prove your identity to the BMV next time you renew.

It may not be as easy to prove your identity as you think. From what we in the courts have seen, those having the most difficulty are the elderly (born when births may not have been as carefully documented), women (who often have changed names with marriages and divorces), and those born in foreign countries or Puerto Rico (who may have originally been given surnames from both mother and father.)

Problems arise when the identifying documents don’t line up. For example, a name on a social security card and current driver’s license may not exactly match. Or a birthdate on a marriage certificate may not be the same as the one on a birth certificate. These discrepancies are somewhat common but, until now, have not kept citizens from getting social security cards, driver’s licenses and even passports. With the Real ID law, that has changed, and so people are looking to fix these discrepancies with the help of the courts.

If you find yourself forced to file in court to fix your documents, the best thing to do is get help from a lawyer. First, a lawyer can advise exactly what type of petition you should file: name change, birth certificate correction or marriage record correction. And depending on the proper type of petition, a lawyer can explain other requirements, such as where the petition should be filed (where you live versus where you were born) and whether the notice of hearing needs to be published in a newspaper. Do not rely on legal advice from anyone who is not an attorney.

If you decide to file the petition and appear in court on your own, you should follow these pointers: (1) look up the state law dealing with your type of petition (all state laws can be found online) and review the requirements for filing and proving your petition; (2) arrive to court early to check in with court staff and provide copies of your supporting documents; and (3) bring your birth certificate or naturalization paper to prove your citizenship. It also may help to bring proof of your state residency.

Don’t panic if your petition is denied or if it’s is not set for hearing until after your license expires. People who currently hold an Indiana driver’s license can usually still renew them without the heightened Real ID requirements. And you won’t need a Real ID to board a plane, etc., until October 2020. But if the past eight months have been any indication, the number of people coming to court to fix their records will only increase between now and 2020, so it’s better not to wait too long to review your documents. Mistakes and discrepancies are more common than you think and fixing them may not be as easy as you’d hoped.

Marissa McDermott is judge of Lake Circuit Court. She advises that nothing in this column should be interpreted or used as legal advice.

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