Pocket Money: What's in a name change? Forms, photos and expense

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The Independent Online
There are many exciting and pleasing aspects to being an adoptive parent. Paperwork isn't one of them. Well, even some of that is - like ordering Cash's name tapes with the family surname on. But mostly it's time-consuming and costly.

When you change your child's name (as one does after all the legal work is complete), you start with buying new birth certificates. Proud as I am, I bought two for each child, and that was close to pounds 100. It's just as well I did, because for the doctor's surgery to recognise the change, they need to send off, yes, the birth certificates. So does the school.

(The dentist, btw, was rather laid-back and just assumed that I was telling the truth when I said: `Can I change the name?' I think she thought: `Why would someone pretend these wild little creatures are hers, she must have to take them home.')

The most expensive, irritating and labour-intensive by far is getting new passports. The two smalls already have passports in their birth surname, but naturally we want to leave the country on our next holiday without copious bits of paperwork to explain why we're taking children out of the country who don't appear to be ours.

A look at the government passport information website offers no clarity. A phone call to the call centre takes 15 minutes and involves me being "virtually" swapped from one expert to another. They're not quite sure whether such a situation calls for a renewal or a change. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The forms are confusing but, hey, that's not news.

What costs - mentally and financially - is the trip (or rather trips) to the photo booth. It's not easy to explain to a six-year-old and a nine- year-old that their eyes must face forward, no sniggering or face pulling, no squatting down so only the fringe is visible, and definitely no swivelling round on the stool so that the resulting photograph is of the back of their head. We have several attempts before something suitable appears. And at pounds 3.50 a pop, that's a lot of money for a stack of comedy snapshots.

A pair of pictures done, and the form is nearly ready to send off. But who will countersign a form who has known the children for the necessary two years? The doctor refuses; well, the cabal of doctors, each of whom has probably only seen the children once. None of my friends could quite fit the "professional" description, nor be called a "person of standing in the community". Finally, a teacher at their school steps forward, and for a small fee - less than my collection of blurred headshots - the signatures are mine.

So far, not too much financial outlay, but a glance at the fees is jaw- dropping. If I needed these passports in a hurry (and who books a holday before getting all the paperwork? Er...), it would cost pounds 71 for each one. The bog-standard "Send the forms into the ether and keep your fingers crossed that the Post Office treats its own literature with more reverence than ours" service takes upward of three weeks and costs pounds 25 each. Perhaps I should have forgotten foreign travel and, for the same price, had a nice week at a campsite.

PS Unlike all of you money-savvy folk, I've only just discovered www.creditaction.org.uk. More on that next week, when I've plucked up the courage to complete their "budget pack" form. Eek. lisamarkwell@mac.com