The question of your last name is a common one for many women and even some men these days. But it doesn’t stop there. You may also have to consider changing your child’s last name.
Wendi had been married for about 22 years when she and her husband divorced. During the divorce her children started to open up to her about their relationship with their father. That resulted in her seeking restricted parenting time. It also became necessary for her to seek a change to her youngest son’s last name. Here’s Wendi:
My kids were like little rosebuds that couldn’t bloom or wouldn’t bloom and then as soon as they saw that note, they were healthy. I didn’t realize that there was this big wall that my husband had built between me and my children. I had wondered why I didn’t have a closer relationship with them when I did so much with them and it was because they were afraid to talk to me and let something slip, because it would be their fault we got a divorce. So, once that barrier was down, they just became healthy thriving kids.
My youngest one does have PTSD. He had to change his middle and last name legally because his father’s name triggered PTSD. The regular therapist and the one he saw for PTSD both said that was a necessity and they supported his decision.
We went to court and my ex fought it, brought a whole entourage of 20-some people to intimidate his son. Luckily we got a very fair judge that told him that she does not allow anyone to intimidate a child in her courtroom and told him basically to shut up and sit down after he went on for about a couple of minutes.
She said since my son was not in debt and he was not trying to hide from anybody, she just changed his name right then and there. My son stood up. He was respectful to his father, which was good. He was respectful and strong and he’s so happy with the name change. He picked my mother’s maiden name. He’s feels that more a part of his heritage.
At school the secretaries kept asking him, “Aren’t you going to change your name? Let us know as soon as you do.” So people were so supportive. I guess he had told people and then it got to the school secretaries who said, “Hurry up and do it.” He goes, “Well, I have to wait until I’m 15.” So then he went in and they just hugged him and said, “Stand here, we’re going to change it in the system. Stand here,” and so everybody just rallied around him.
The Divorce Coach Says
Changing your child’s last name is not limited to high-conflict situations. The need may arise in any divorce where either you or your child feels it’s important for you both to have the same last name. And it doesn’t mean dropping the present last name. It could mean adding another name. It’s really up to you and your child to decide what will work for them.
That being said, it is very difficult to change your child’s name without the agreement of the other parent. In addition to Wendi, another of my interviewees, Debbie was successful because her ex was a pedophile and the judge agreed that the name association would be very challenging for the child. That should give you some idea of the degree of difficult in doing this without your ex’s agreement.
That means, it’s much easier to address during the divorce proceedings while there are many other issues up for negotiation.
The process for changing your child’s name is more complex than that for changing your name – there’s isn’t a check box on the divorce papers and there’s no time limit so you can do this anytime. However, if you do this at the same time as your divorce, being sure you get all the paperwork signed and not just a verbal agreement, you’ll be able to get your attorney to assist you if necessary. And don’t forget about the paperwork to update social security records and your child’s passport.
I have met people who hadn’t considered the name question until a final meeting or phone call with their attorney who surprised them by asking if they wanted to change their name. For some people it’s simple – it was for me – but for others, it can be quite complicated and they need time to consider all the angles. It should be a part of everyone’s divorce preparations along with planning how to tell your children and how to go public with your divorce.
BTW … certainly in the U.S. you are not required to go back to the name you had before you were married. You are free to choose another name and that flexibility makes it even more important to give yourself some time to think this through.
Wendi Schuller is the author of The Woman’s Holistic Guide to Divorce. Read more about Wendi’s book and follow her blog at her website.
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