Why Is it Easier to Get a New Passport Than it Is to Renew a Driver’s License?

by mathhbratt

I have so many things to blog about: a recent move, the Pi Day assembly, my aging cat, and more. Fatigue is far too often in my way. I finally have some energy to blog today, and since I finally closed the chapter on the drama that was renewing my driver’s license, here you go…

Last month, I took a personal day off from work to deal with our move (unpacking, cleaning, recuperating, etc.). The day was NOT going as productively as I planned, so I decided to get something else done. I decided to renew my driver’s license. Sure, I was a month early, but I’d have it out of the way on a day I didn’t have to worry about time, so why not?


Why? Because that is when I found out I could not satisfy Connecticut DMV with my documents!

Here is how it went down:

I walked into AAA where they do driver’s license renewals (incredibly thankful for this option, cuz our DMV is miles away and takes the entire day to get through). There, I anxiously (in the bad way) awaited my turn.

These types of endeavors trigger my anxiety, because I am always certain I am going to be missing the one piece of paper that sends me home having wasted my time in line and leaving me without a new license or whatever.

After I think maybe half an hour in line, it was my turn. I went to the lady, all smiles, and handed her my old driver’s license. She informed me they are switching to enhanced driver’s licenses and that I would need a list of documents. Since we had JUST moved, and I was super afraid of important papers getting lost, ALL of my important papers were in my purse. She asked for birth certificate, Bam! I pulled it out and gave it to her. Social Security card, Bam! Two pieces of mail with current address, Bam! (I had changed my address with my car insurance and renter’s insurance and had received mail from both of them on moving day!) Marriage certificate, Bam! Divorce from first husband certificate, Bam! Marriage certificate to first husband? Doesn’t exist. sigh!

My heart sank. I had looked into this once before, because I wanted to see if I could get the thing where I could pass through TSA with less hassle to make my trips to see my gson less anxiety-inducing. Idaho (where my first marriage took place) flat out told me there is nothing certified they can give me.

You see, my first husband was a pot-head and a drunk. I was young and insecure and had zero self-esteem along with plenty of anxiety. The thought of planning a wedding and doing the paperwork and all that was too overwhelming for me, and he was too “him” to step up. We weren’t even capable of going to a justice of the peace.

He told me that Idaho had common law marriage, so I looked into it. We both really wanted to have a baby way more than a wedding anyway. I could be put on his medical insurance if we were married. We learned there were several ways to be considered married through Idaho’s common law.

It was not like the whole “live together for six months” thing you might hear of in some states (if common law is even a thing anymore). This was back in 1989. Anyway, we could do things like buy property together, file income taxes together, or simply introduce myself to people with his last name. We did the income tax thing. I was surprised at how easy it was. The Idaho DMV required documents and would accept medical records. I used his last name with the doctors, and I even had it hyphenated for awhile, so that made proving the transition quite a bit easier. I can’t remember how Social Security was satisfied, but I think it was through my taxes and driver’s license. Sounds silly, but by Idaho common law, this made us married.

Seventeen years later, when I couldn’t take another day with him, I filed for divorce. My attorney looked into it to see if we needed a “real” divorce, because by then, Idaho did not have common law anymore. I had hoped for an easier way out, but in the eyes of Idaho, we were married, and we had to do a full-on divorce. I had the option at that time to go back to my maiden name, but I chose to keep his name, because my kids had his name. In hindsight, this was a stupid decision (not as stupid as the decision to marry him in the first place, but still stupid). At one point during the seventeen years, I had dropped the hyphenation to save effort. Thus, our divorce papers only showed me with his name and not the name on my birth certificate.

Fast forward to last month, and I have no certified document to prove going from my maiden name to my first husband’s name, so all the certified documents after that are useless. I can prove through income tax returns, medical records, previous driver’s licenses, etc. Heck, I was only in here to RENEW my driver’s license without making ANY changes! My children’s certified birth certificates have my name on there with maiden and married name hyphenated (they were born during the time I was hyphenating), but even those will not satisfy the DMV for these new enhanced driver’s licenses!

The gal made it seem like if I could not prove my first name change with a piece of certified paper that does not exist and cannot be made to exist by an unwilling Idaho governing agency, I would become illegal after my birthday! You can imagine what this did to me trying to talk myself down from anxiety about being there in the first place! My DMV nightmares were coming true! This sent me into a downward spiral, and it haunted me and hung over me for weeks.

I contacted a friend who is an attorney in none of the states I had name changes in, but I thought she might have good ideas. She was just as shocked as I was I couldn’t renew my license with the same name they issued it in the first place. She suggested a name affidavit or seeing if I could amend my divorce to show my maiden name on it. She asked me if all my name changes had gone through Social Security, and they had.

This got me thinking. I studied the list of acceptable documents and noticed that a passport could be used instead of a birth certificate. So, if I could get a passport with my current name, I wouldn’t need to prove my first nor subsequent name changes. But, I seemed to think I would need to prove those to get a passport. After all, this is why I had previously contacted Idaho about helping me prove that name change in the first place! But, there was room for confusion here, because when I was looking into a passport it was because I was looking into that TSA quick thing, so I checked again, focussing solely on getting a passport.

From what I could tell, I had the necessary items for a passport: birth certificate, driver’s license, and money. (I can’t remember if they asked for mail or not, but I had that too!) I found an office near here that accepts appointments and does the photographing at the same time. This seemed much less anxiety-inducing than going to the post office and hoping first come first served would work out even though my work hours would put me there fifteen minutes before closing!

I was able to get an appointment and nervously went in. I had prayed all day at work. I was so nervous! I just knew I’d get in there and they’d also demand this non-existant document from Idaho.

Thankfully, I was completely wrong! They were friendly and professional and quickly got me in and out. They were satisfied with my documents, and I paid an extra fee to have my passport expedited. (Remember, my personal day was about four weeks before my license would expire.)

I nervously awaited updates on my passport. I just knew at some point I’d receive a piece of mail denying me, and that I’d have to become an illegal citizen and no longer be able to fly to see my gson. Every day there wasn’t an update available online was another day I was convinced this wasn’t going to work. Then one day, the update said it was in the final stages.

I googled the heck out of what that statement meant. From what I could tell, it meant they were printing and mailing my card! Could it be? Would I have a passport? And, more importantly, after jumping through all these passport hoops, would it satisfy the DMV so I could renew my driver’s license?

My passport came last week! I couldn’t even believe it! I am 47 years old and finally have my first passport! Other than the battle with anxiety and all the brain crap I had going on, it was remarkably easy to get the passport. I can see this in hindsight. I walked in, gave them my birth certificate and driver’s license (and maybe some mail?), got my picture taken, threw money at them, and left. The wait for expedited service was less than three weeks.

Last night, I decided today would be the day I tried again to get my license renewed. I have until 4/23, and I also have this next week off of work for Spring Break, but I really wanted to put this behind me and have this chapter closed so I could breathe again. This morning, I got up, made myself somewhat presentable, tweeted to my #TheBloggessTribe friends (who can relate to my anxiety issues) and sat down with my papers.

I read through the sheet of required documents again and again. I gathered into one spot of my purse what I believed I needed, and I kept all of the other documents in the other side of my purse “just in case.” I checked, double-checked, triple-checked, etc. to make sure the ones I wanted were still there and didn’t fly out of my bag or something when I wasn’t looking. (I am not OCD like I was when I was younger, but this moment was reminiscent of that.) I finally made it to my car to head out.

I arrived at AAA 8 minutes before they were due to open. I was fourth in line outside the door. A twitter friend was encouraging me, and I was replying. Before I knew it, the door opened mid-tweet. I carried my half-tweet with me to finish in the inside line, but there were four people ready to take care of us, so even though I was fourth, I wasn’t. I handed the gal my documents and finished my tweet while she was entering stuff. I was so distracted by writing my message, I didn’t have time to nervously fret at her looking at her screen like I normally would. As I was reading my friend’s reply, the gal handed me back my papers and showed me where to sit.

I didn’t even get a number, because I ended up being first! Even though I was fourth outside, I was so overly prepared for this, I was able to get through the initial person the fastest.

I took my seat to continue my twitter conversation, but they called me up to the next window. I gave her my documents, and she verified some stuff. She also took lots of my money. Something hilarious happened with the employees and had us laughing just in time for my photo! She told me to sit down again while it printed. Then she called number 2 which is when I realized I didn’t even get a number. I got to be “Karin” instead of “Number 1.” I wouldn’t have minded being Number 1, but getting to be Karin when everyone else was a number was pretty cool!

I sat down to tweet some more, but then she called my name, and I was holding my new license in my hand! I checked the clock when I was walking out, and it was 9:06! I was in and out in under 6 minutes!!! AND, thanks to my twitter friend, I didn’t spend ANY of it nervous or fretting or taking way too much like I always do in my fit of DMV anxiety! It was truly amazing.

This blog was supposed to be about how ridiculous it is that getting a first-time passport was way easier than renewing my driver’s license, but really I think it is about how our friends can talk us off the ledge. What normally would have been a very nervous, stressful experience for me wasn’t, because a tribe member was available to sufficiently distract me.

If you struggle with depression or anxiety to any degree, I highly recommend joining twitter and following the hashtag: #TheBloggessTribe

We are a group of people who were all helped by Jenny Lawson’s hilarious books written to help us realize we are not alone. We don’t have to hide the crap that happens in our brains.

But yeah, why was it so much easier for me to get a first-time passport than it was to renew my driver’s license?