Real ID, real hassle

Record-Eagle/Tessa LightyMollie Moody learned she needed proof of every name change in her lifetime in order to renew her driver’s license. Moody, who has been married three times and divorced twice, had to gather decades-old records.

TRAVERSE CITY — For some, getting a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card is just a routine visit to the Secretary of State office.

For others, like Molly Moody, it’s complicated.

Collecting all the documents needed to obtain a Real ID was time-consuming, costly and emotional for Moody, whose name has changed several times during her 67 years.

“It was not a pleasant experience by any means,” said Moody, of Suttons Bay. “It wasn’t just a clerical job to do it. It also brought back memories of bad choices.”

Starting in October 2020, a Real ID-compliant card will be required for anybody boarding a plane for a domestic flight or for anyone entering certain federal facilities, military bases or nuclear power plants.

According to information at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website, people don’t have to obtain a Real ID, especially if they don’t plan to fly, go onto a military base, or have a valid U.S. passport, which can be used in place of the federally-compliant ID. But those who don’t have it will not be able to board a plane.

A birth certificate is required to obtain a Real ID and if a person’s name is different than the name on their birth certificate, they must also bring in documents — marriage licenses, divorce decrees or court orders — to back up the name change.

If their name has changed more than once, documents will be needed to verify each change. A passport can also be used to obtain a Real ID in lieu of the documents.

“The whole point is to make driver’s licenses as secure as possible and to make sure a person is who they say they are,” said Fred Woodhams, Secretary of State spokesman.

“We just need to match the name on your birth certificate to your current name. It is more of a hassle for people, especially women, who’ve changed their name, but it is something we require.”

The state began issuing Real ID about a year ago. Of Michigan’s 7.2 million drivers licenses in circulation, 2.76 million have been issued the compliant cards, Woodhams said.

Of the 1 million state ID cards issued, about half have been updated to Real ID, he said.

The Real ID Act of 2005 was enacted by Congress following the 2001 terrorist attacks. It was based on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission and is meant to safeguard the country against future attacks.

The Real ID licenses are marked with a gold star. Licenses and IDs for those who opt out are marked “not for federal identification.”

The state also has enhanced licenses that allow re-entry into the country by someone traveling by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Starting this week, those cards will be marked with a gold star and the U.S. flag.

Moody said when it came time to renew her driver’s license she got a notice from the SOS saying that she could renew by mail.

To get a Real ID she’d have to show up in person.

Moody flies frequently and knew she’d need the upgraded license, which she had heard about from her older sister. So she grabbed her birth certificate and headed for the nearby SOS office, not knowing that she would also need proof of her three marriages and two divorces.

“The Suttons Bay office is small and it was packed,” Moody said. “I was asked personal questions about how many times I was married, which the whole room heard.

“I was shocked ... I was stunned.”

Moody said finding a divorce decree from a 1972 marriage that lasted just two years proved difficult. Officials in Wayne County, where the divorce took place, couldn’t find a record of it and sent her an email saying it had been dismissed.

“You can imagine my reaction to that,” she said.

The lost decree was eventually found when several clerks searched the basement of the building.

“I finally took all that in and was able to get my compliant driver’s license,” Moody said. “To see those certificates and to see the names and dates, it was an emotional mess. And it cost money.”

She wants other women to know what she had to go through so they’ll be prepared.

“It tends to be more difficult for the female population because we’re the ones who are changing our names,” said Sarah Lutz, chief deputy clerk for Grand Traverse County.

Birth certificates are on file at the clerk’s office in the county where a person was born; marriage licenses are on file in the county where a person lived when they got married, regardless of where the wedding took place.

For Michiganders, they are also on file in Lansing.

Divorce papers can be found in Circuit Court.

Birth, marriage and death certificates cost $15 for the first one and $5 for additional certified copies of the same record, Lutz said.

There are no extra fees for a Real ID-compliant license or ID card, only the fees normally charged for a driver's license renewal or replacement. To apply, visit the Secretary of State office. Here's what you'll need:

• A U.S. birth certificate with a stamp or raised seal; or

• A valid, unexpired U.S. passport or passport card; or

• An approved citizenship or legal presence document.

• If your name is different from what is on any of the documents, proof of the name change will be needed — a marriage certificate, divorce decree or court order. If a name has changed more than once, proof of each change will be needed.

Recommended for you