Guest Post by Vania Silva
Divorce is never an easy process; yet planning ahead for the changes in your life can aid in making the adjustment phase easier. Separating from a spouse will unquestionably impact every aspect of your life: from your finances, emotional health, and even your name.
Reverting to a maiden name after a divorce provides a sense of a clean slate and one that doesn’t constantly remind you of what the last few years felt like. Divorce is a process of transforming oneself whole again. Changing back to one’s birth name may be part of that reconstruction to one’s prior individuality. At the end of your divorce – as part of the divorce procedure – you may request that the court change your last name back to your maiden name, so long as you’re not doing so to avoid any liens, creditors or judgments that may currently exist.
The Process of Legally Changing Your Name
The process of legally changing your name varies by jurisdiction, but in most states it’s fairly easy to request the divorce court judge to enter a formal order restoring your name to your maiden name. If your divorce is finalized and contains a court order regarding your name change, that’s all you need.
Be certain to obtain a certified copy of the court order as proof of the name change. You will need the certified copy to proceed with legally changing your name on your social security, driver’s license, bank accounts, credit cards, property tax, voter registration card, memberships, and any other documents.
When a Divorce Decree Does Not Contain a Name Change Order
If your divorce decree doesn’t contain a court order to revert to your maiden name, you need to ask if you can have the court order changed to include such information. Some states allow this process even when the court order has been finalized. You can obtain the proper forms at the courthouse or your state’s court website. If the judge signs your request, then you would get a certified copy and use that as the evidence needed to get your name changed wherever you want it changed.
If your divorce papers do not show a name change request and you cannot have it amended into the court record, you will most likely still be able to change your name. The process will be easier if you are trying to revert to your maiden name. A completely new name will be slightly more complicated. You may petition for a change of name at your local court. This process isn’t as time-consuming as a lawsuit, but it’s still a tedious process. To file the petition, your local court may require a series of documents including your name, address, the past name history, the reason you want to change your name along with a certification that you don’t intend to change your name for any illegal or fraudulent purposes, and a copy of your birth certificate.
After you file for a name change, the court will then publish a Notice of the Petition and if no one objects to the name change and the court does not have questions about the petition, the judge then grants and signs the decree for the name change. However, if someone contests the name change and/or the judge has any questions about your petition, the judge may then schedule a hearing. Again, the process will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it can take approximately 2 to 2 ½ months from the date of filing to complete the process.
Changing your Child’s Last Name to Match Your Maiden Name
Traditionally, courts have favored the child keeping the father’s last name as long as the father continues to fulfill his parental duties. But under current laws, a court may agree to a child’s name being changed to the mother’s maiden name, when it’s clear that doing so is in the best interest of the child. Courts will analyze a series of factors to make this decision such as the child’s age, the mother-child relationship, any negative aspects the child would suffer with a name change, and any benefits the name change would bring. Changing the child’s name will not change any obligations of either parent in terms of visitation, child support payments, inheritance, or intestacy rights.
Filing the Appropriate Paperwork with Government Agencies
After the court has approved your name change, you will then need to complete and file name-change forms for Social Security, IRS 8822, United States Postal Service, Passport, and your state driver’s license. After filing those forms, you will also need to call or submit letters to all of your creditors such as banks, credit cards, physicians, insurances, etc.
You should begin by changing your name on your Social Security card first. Your new card will take approximately 7 to 14 days to arrive. You should then proceed with changing the name on your driver’s license. Keep in mind some states and departments may have expectations for how soon you change your name. For example, in Colorado you are expected to update your driver’s license within 30 days of the court order.
If you have travel plans, you can continue to use your previous name until the passport expires, so long as the airline ticket matches the name on your passport. Be certain to keep an official picture ID that matches the name on your ticket, as most airlines will not reissue tickets in a different name.
Reverting to your maiden name won’t affect your credit score. Name change notifications automatically appear up on credit bureaus without any further needed action. If you pull your credit report, you can verify the different names (even misspelled) tied to your identity. All your credit history will be fully accounted for.
Informal Methods of Legal Name Change
State laws let individuals adopt almost any name for nearly any reason. This may be casually through usage or formally through a court order. In some states, an individual may use a name at will, by, for example, using it for employment, for doing business, for socializing, etc. This is “change by usage” and the name change is legally accepted, as if the individual had obtained a court ordered name change, unless the use is deceptive or fraudulent.
Assumed or Fictitious Name – A trade name or doing business as name is different from your personal name. The “open and notorious” use of a name is often enough to allow using a fictitious name. Most jurisdictions allow for a trade name, different from one’s legal name, to be indexed with the county clerk, secretary of state, or other similar government authority. Individuals who wish to publish materials may publish under pseudonyms; such a right is protected under case law pursuant to United States Constitution.
Preferred name – Many institutions such as universities and even hospitals will allow individuals to use a “preferred name” instead of one’s legal name. The preferred name may show up on roster lists, online learning platforms, email addresses at work, and ID cards. This “transitional” name change allows for those who have yet to, or cannot, receive a court-ordered name change.
Start Using your Name
You may want to revert your maiden name immediately after the divorce, or you may to keep your ex-husband’s last name. No court order can require going back to a maiden name and even if the divorce decree included a stipulation stating you could go back to it – it’s your call. Occasionally, women find it easier to keep the same last name after a divorce for professional consistency while others prefer to change it. Essentially, the name you decide to keep, shed, or reclaim is yours and only you can make the decision of what name will define you going forward.
Written by Vania Silva. Vania is a freelancer with a legal background specializing in family law.