Divorce Wisely: Do I Change My Name?

Oct 20, 2022

Many of my clients changed their names when they got married.  Most commonly, the wife will take their husband’s surname, signifying the two becoming one family.

When divorce occurs, the person who changed his/her name at the time of the marriage must decide whether to keep this “new” last name or change it.  To further complicate things, the name change need not be the former name.  As long as there is no intention to mislead or defraud (and the person has no criminal convictions), the person seeking a name change can change his/her name to any name – even a new first, middle and last name!

Some of my clients are chomping at the bit to change their names, especially if they took their spouse’s last name at the time of marriage.  These clients see the name change as an important part of the new lives they are creating.

Other clients, especially if they are mothers with school-aged children, don’t necessarily want to have a different last name from their kids.  So these clients usually opt to keep their last names, either until their kids grow up, or permanently.

An important thing to be aware of is that changing a name at the time of divorce is incorporated into the divorce paperwork and is not a separate legal process.  If, however, you decide to change your name after the divorce is final, perhaps once your children are grown, you will likely need to commence a separate legal proceeding to change your name.  This often involves filing a legal petition, paying a filing fee, and securing witnesses to corroborate your identity.  It’s not necessarily an easy, or short, process.

Given this, my advice is that if you want to change your name, do so as a part of the divorce.  While the finalization of the divorce documents legally changes your name, the change is not actualized until you take certified copies of your divorce decree to the Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, etc.  However, you should promptly change you name on your license, etc., once the name change has been granted.

Further, even if you decide to change your name, and do so, you can always informally refer to yourself (to your kids’ teachers, Cub Scout parents, etc.) by your former married name (“hi, I’m Mrs. Smith”) or by your child’s name (“hi, I’m Jenny, Tyler Smith’s mom”).

Regardless of what you decide, divorce is a prime opportunity to consider a name change.  Whether you return to a former or maiden name or create different identity, the possibility for a new beginning awaits.