Changing your name at the time of your divorce is an easy legal process but a very personal decision. For me, going back to my maiden name was a no-brainer. Changing your child’s name isn’t so straight-forward. That’s not part of the divorce process and is a completely separate legal transaction. I’m told generally judges will only agree to the dropping of a father’s last name when the father has no involvement in the child’s life and doesn’t object.
Debbie’s situation seems to be one of those to which a judge would agree and Debbie did change her how her son was known. Here’s why she did it and how she handled it with her son.
I changed my name back to my maiden name immediately and I never intended to change my son’s name. However, when I found out about the sex offender conviction I changed my mind. It wasn’t a snap decision because in the back of my head, I still had that
“maybe someday he’ll get help and he can be a part of my son’s life again.”
With the conviction, I realized that was never going to happen. My husband had an unusual surname and I feared that someday, somehow, someone might connect my son to his dad and then he’d have to explain how his dad was a sex offender. I didn’t want my son to have his father’s name if that name was on the sex offender registry.
The other part of it was I really struggled with the,
“are we still a family?”
It was just the two of us. I had always wanted a second child and obviously that didn’t happen. My son was only four at the time but I told him it was something I was thinking about and that we’d have to ask the judge’s permission and he was OK with it.
We had to notify his dad and I actually took the extra step of notifying my ex’s parents. They had cut off contact with me as well but I felt that letting them know was the right thing to do. My ex had the opportunity to contest it but he didn’t and the judge was fine with it.
My son’s preschool was very supportive. After we’d been to court, they let let me do a little presentation to my son in class and we did the Sesame Street letter of the day. We said the letter of the day was the letter his last name now began with and told the class what his last name was now. It was really cute.
It’s been really nice. It’s been a lot less confusing and it’s helped me feel like we’re more of a closed unit. Again, if my ex hadn’t done the illegal stuff, I probably never would have done it.
The Divorce Coach Says
While lots of women do go change their name after divorce, I think it’s less common for children’s names to change, possibly because it’s a separate process. The most likely change is to hyphenate the mother’s with the father’s name and it gets complicated with subsequent marriages and step-siblings.
I’ve talked to women who kept their married name because they felt it was part of what being a family meant and they wanted to have the same surname as their children. I knew I wanted to change my name and my children laughed at the idea of hyphenating the names,
“Yeah, mom – what would we do if we got married to someone who also had two last names..”
Good point. So, I do have a different last name than my children and I don’t feel it makes us less of a family. It can make for silly complications like when the doctor’s office asks for your name and you say yours but then have to explain that your child’s is different.
And then there was the time my daughter wanted her nose pierced but because she’s not quite eighteen she needed me to go with her (state law). The shop wanted my ID and then there was a discussion about whether they could do the piercing because the name on my license was different from hers.
In Debbie’s case, I think she made absolutely the right decision for her child. That she didn’t hear any objections from her ex or from her ex-in-laws tells me, they understood too. I can also understand why she felt the change would help them be a family – when everything you took to be true, is ripped apart, I think you take hold of what you can to put it back together and this was a very tangible part of their identity.
Debbie mentioned above that she has no contact with her former in-laws. In the next post Debbie talks about that why she thinks that’s for the best.