You think you’re married, until you go to the NJ DMV.

Everyone’s heard the jokes about the DMV – the lines, the ‘smiley faces’, the bureaucracy. And to be honest, I’ve gone through it all, especially having moved so often between 1994 and 2002. But my wife’s experience over the last 7 days is so ludicrous, that I can’t help but laugh – except not around her because she’s far from laughing about it.

The First Try

The first time my wife went to the DMV office, she had forgotten about New Jersey’s new 6-point ID system (PDF), which requires all renewals have enough different identification to completely identify yourself to them, each assigned a point value. You are required to have a:

  • Primary Document (worth 2 – 4 points), and includes your birth certificate (4), current NJ digital driver’s license (4, while the old licenses are only worth 1 point), current photo employment authorization card (3) or current resident alien registration card (2)
  • Secondary Document (worth 1 – 3 points) such as a marriage certificate (3), US college photo ID with transcript (2) or a Social Security Card (1) or bank statement or record (1).
    Note that you can’t use more than 1 of the 1-point documents.
  • Your social security number
  • Proof of Address

My wife didn’t have all of that, so she figured that she would run home and go the next day.

Second Try

To add to the fun, since she had her birth certificate which had her maiden name, and she was going to use her married name – which she had already on her current license – she had to follow one of the great new rules:

If your current legal name is different from either the name on your civil birth certificate, then you must show legal proof of the name change. Legal proof = certified marriage certificate, divorce decree or court order linking the new name with a previous name.

Yes, kids, because she had a name different from her birth certificate, she needed to have our marriage certificate in order to get a new license – 4+ years after she had already gotten a license with her married name. So, back to home to get the marriage certificate with a plan to go back the next day (Wednesday, 2/28)

The Sick Delay

No sooner had she made that decision than she came down with the flu and spent almost all of last week on the couch – meaning that she missed the end of the month and her license expired. No big deal, right? Well…

Third Try

Wrong. On Friday (3/2), she went back again, and guess what? An expired license is only good for NOTHING. No points. Believe it or not. An expired passport (of less than 3 years) is good for 4 points, but your expired driver’s license isn’t good for anything…so, back to DMV again, this time with our marriage certificate. But wait for it … it gets better. Upon showing her:

  • expired (by 2 days) driver license
  • her birth certificate
  • a credit card bill
  • her passport
  • her social security card
  • our marriage certificate

She is informed that they can’t help her because our marriage certificate is invalid. Huh? Well, it seems that we don’t have a certified version of our marriage certificate. We were married in Fiji, and while I thought we received one a few weeks after we got back, but Shari says we didn’t. In any event, we used that certificate to get her (now-expired) driver’s license, to get her DOD security clearance and even her social security card – but yet it wasn’t good enough for New Jersey DMV.

Worse, since the coup in Fiji last year, the U.S. government isn’t recognizing the new Fijian government, meaning that even if we were to get a new certified copy of our marriage license, they still might not accept it. What strikes me as odd is that the certificate we have was good enough for a license previously AND a social security card, but isn’t good enough for a license renewal? And since when are previously accepted documents like a marriage certificate not grandfathered?

Obviously, the wife was not a happy person at this point. Not only did she still not have her new driver’s license, but faced with the fact that she needed to get a certified copy of our marriage license, it might be quite a while before she could. Even if we could get the new Fijian government (and it’s mostly the same government – they had more of a “Excuse us, but would you mind terribly if we took over the government now?” kind of coup) to send us a certified copy, it would take 2-3 weeks to get here. Normally, that would be annoying, but there were some complications – namely, that we were leaving for our trip to Texas in less than 2 weeks and you need a valid ID to board a plane. Since her passport was still in her previous married name, she couldn’t use that, and they might get a little iffy at accepting an expired driver’s license (even if it was less than 3 weeks expired at the time).

So, she made a few calls, eventually (somehow) actually speaking to the head of NJ DMV and explaining her situation. S/he (I don’t remember which) said that he would explain the situation to the regional supervisor and manager, and that she should take every form of identification she had with her and they would see what they could do in light of our traveling and the whole Fijian wedding/non-recognized government thing.

The Fourth Trip, or… This is just about ridiculous

So, she heads back again, this time laden with just about everything on the list of proof of ID she has, including her DOD security clearance, NJ Courts ID (i.e. a valid state-issued picture ID), a credit card bill, insurance statement, etc. When she gets there and asks to see the supervisor, she is asked to wait. While she’s sitting there, the supervisor comes out and begins to say that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about and that the rep should deal with it. Luckily, Shari was standing right there and stopped her before she left.

Going through the stacks of documents she had, she learned that:

  • “The Department of Homeland and Security does not recognize DOD Clearances as verifiable identification.” (I kid you not – and if you’ve ever gotten your security clearance, you know how thorough they are, unless you work for TSA).
  • Our tax return and bank statement ended up carrying more weight with them than the expired driver’s license or the DOD Security Clearance.
  • They couldn’t accept the DHS (aka DYFUS/NJ Courts) ID because they couldn’t verify that ID was valid (so much for shared infromation, eh?)

As my wife said to me, And since when can’t the DHS verify information on a classified doc? She also discovered that while the DMV provides documentation and upholds DHS rules, they couldn’t DHS to verify anything to her, including the DOD clearance.

In the end, the supervisor ended up making a judgment call and issued the license, despite the fact that between DMV, DHS, DYFUS and DOD, no one is talking, verifying or validating each other’s documents. I’m sure the supervisor was sticking her neck out a bit for this, but to be honest I think Shari went far above and beyond the call to prove she was … well, herself.

And now, Shari gets to update her passport with her married name – but at least she’ll have a valid license to start with…


3 Responses to “You think you’re married, until you go to the NJ DMV.

  • That six-point system is not unique, I can’t remember which of the places I’ve lived had that, but at least some did — but I’ve never heard of it gone so horribly awry. I’d like to say I’m shocked, but there’s no limit to the DMV’s idiocy. I’m glad everything worked out, but I’d be livid, too.

    I had a semi-similar situation when I went to vote last year. I hadn’t gotten an Indiana driver’s license … in fact, I didn’t bother to get one the two years before that, when I lived in Illinois, either, so I still had a Texas driver’s license. They wouldn’t accept it, on account of being an out of state license. However, they would accept Indiana University IDs, which you can get easier with any out of state driver’s license. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

    So I rushed home and tried to find my passport. At first, I couldn’t find it, but eventually, I did. I made it back in time, but I was pretty pissed.

  • The thing that always strikes me about the DMV is how important they feel their own data and requirements actually are when both are so badly flawed.

    A couple years ago before all the crazy ID theft measures, it did seem to be better, hopefully they’ll adjust and overcome …in 40 years.

  • I have no problems with the 6-points system per se; in fact, I think it’s a good idea. It’s just that – like most bureaucracies – the person who devised the actual implementation must have been a dyslexic drunk. And like Van said, the fact that they take their old information – which is obviously flawed since the process changed so dramatically – as higher value than DOD security clearances and other ‘higher value’ documents. Oh well, it’s over now. At least I never have to change my name and go through this rigamorale.

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