In a lot of families, one of the spouses takes the last name of the other spouse once they are married. If, at a certain point, a couple decides to end their marriage, such a spouse needs to decide whether to keep going by the current name or change it to a former one. Whether you are still thinking about it or have already made up your mind, here is what you need to know about the name change in divorce and other cases.

Will my Name Change Automatically Upon Divorce?

Upon divorce, maiden names will not automatically be re-applied. While you could choose to recognize yourself by your maiden name at any point, for the name to be legally changed on government documents like a driver’s license or social security card, you must go through a legal process. Your spouse will have no legal measures available to oppose the name change.

When Can I Change My Maiden Name?

Your last name can be changed at any point:

  • During and after divorce proceedings.
  • When you are legally separated.
  • While you are still married to your spouse.

However, the time in which you decide to revert to your maiden name will affect the process of changing it.

Steps to Change Your Name

1. In a Divorce Decree

While the process will vary from state to state, returning to your maiden name will be the most efficient if done in a divorce decree:

  • You should request that the judge approves an official name change as part of your divorce judgment. This will help you avoid going through a separate court proceeding.
  • If you do not request the name change at the outset of the proceedings, you may amend your pleadings later to include the request for a name change.

2. While Separated

Changing your name while separated is possible, but it is less straightforward than doing so during divorce proceedings.

To legally change your name while separated, you should file a Petition for a Name Change with the court. Each jurisdiction will have different rules regarding the petition, so you should be sure to research your specific local law on name changes, which could include:

  • Submitting personally-identifying documentation.
  • Presenting proof of residency.
  • Having certain documents/paperwork notarized.
  • Publishing name changes in a newspaper.

There will also likely be a filing fee that should be paid to the court when you file the petition.

In some jurisdictions, you may have to:

  • Appear before a judge before the petition is approved.

A hearing will usually require that you present identifying information to the judge and describe your reasons for requesting the change.

  • Publicize your name change.

This implies that you will have to inform the public about the name change through a local newspaper. Be aware that the newspaper in which you publish will charge a fee for their services.

3. While Still Being Married

Sometimes, for a number of personal reasons, a spouse may choose to take back their maiden name, even though they want to stay married. The process will be virtually the same as changing your name while separated, requiring the filing of a Petition for a Name Change and other necessary documentation with the appropriate court in your state of residence.

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What to do After Your Request for Name Change was Approved?

Once your divorce is final, or your Petition for Name Change was approved, you should request a certified copy of the document confirming the name change from the clerk of court. This document can be used as evidence to easily change your name on various government documents such as:

  • A driver’s license
  • Social security card.
  • Passports.
  • Professional licenses.

You should also seek to change your name on any subscriptions you may have along with the bank, IRS, and other financial accounts.

What If the Divorce Decree Does Not Contain an Order Changing My Name?

If you did not include a name change request in your divorce decree, it is still possible to change your last name without having to file a Petition for a Name Change in some states.

In those states that allow it, a spouse can seek to modify the divorce decree even after the divorce has been finalized and include the name change request. An additional hearing may be required when seeking to amend the divorce decree, where you will have to explain why you are making the request.

Do not forget to obtain a certified copy of the order from the court clerk to change your name on legal documents.

Potential Delays

It should be noted that changing your name, either during a separation or before or after a divorce, will be delayed if the spouse seeking the name change has been previously charged with a crime. This is especially true if a crime was committed while the spouse was married. Courts will likely hold a hearing to ensure there is no evidence of a name being changed solely to avoid criminal liability.

Further, if you are not seeking to revert to your maiden name but seeking to obtain a completely new name, there will often be more hurdles and paperwork necessary for which you should be prepared.

How to Change the Name of Children

Sometimes, a spouse may wish to have the name of their child changed to align with their own. Traditionally, courts gave fathers a blanket right to have their children retain their last name. Today, however, any spouse may file a petition with the court to have their child's name changed. The court will grant the request if it in the best interests of the child.

Several factors will be considered in determining the best interests of the child:

  • Father-Child Relationship: A strong relationship between the father and the child will weigh in favor of having that child maintain the father’s surname.
  • Mother-Child Relationship: A strong relationship between the mother and the child will similarly weigh in favor of having the child’s name changed to the mother’s surname.
  • Paternity: Where the father can establish paternity, a court may be more likely to have the child keep the father’s surname in order to maintain the identifying tie to the father’s family.
  • Period of Time with the Name: Where the child has not had the father's last name for a long time, a court is more likely to approve the name change request. This is particularly true where the father is not involved in the child’s life.
  • New Family Identity: Sometimes, if a mother remarries into a new family and brings the child to live with them, the court could find that it is in the best interests of the child to identify with that new family and have their surname changed.

In some cases where a mother remarries, and the stepparent chooses to adopt the child from the prior marriage, a name change can be done through the adoption process. This will generally be more efficient and cost-effective.

Conclusion

Changing your name can be a time-consuming process that requires attention to detail and navigating bureaucracy. However, many spouses find it to be a liberating experience and worth the red tape. Therefore, while making this choice is completely up to you, it is worth considering all the factors outlined above before you start the process.