Thinking About Changing Your Name After Divorce?
Did you ever wonder why women change their name when they get married? Women have been doing it for centuries (maybe longer), and it probably has something to do with the fact that women used to be considered to be “chattel,” which is a fancy Latin word for“property.”
So taking your husband’s last name was probably a lot like putting an identification tag on your suitcase: it was a public proclamation of who “owned” the property. (Bet that makes you feel great, now doesn’t it?!)
Thankfully, in today’s world, men no longer “own” their wives (although some of them don’t seem to have gotten that memo.) Yet, the tradition of name changing lives on … which is all well and good until you get divorced. Then you have to decide:
a) whether to go back to your maiden name and,
b) how to do it.
Should You Go Back to Your Maiden Name?
If you took your husband’s name when you were married, the decision of whether to go back to your maiden name when you divorce can be a tough one. What should you think about?
1. You might want to have the same name as your children. If you have children, you may not want the hassle of having a different last name than your kids. If you keep your husband’s last name, you and your children will all be easily identified as a family, and it will probably save you from a bureaucratic headache or two down the road when you go to fill out school forms, medical forms, and all of the other forms that accompany our modern lives.
2. Changing your name might mean people don’t know you. If you have been married for a long time, chances are that most people now know you by your married name. If you change it, many people may no longer realize who you are (which may or may not be a good thing!). Changing your name may also provoke conversations which you may not be interested in, or ready to have, about the fact that you are divorced.
3. Your name is your identity. If you have only been married for a short time, you may want your single identity back. Even if you have been married for a long time, you may want the outward symbol that “you” are back! Taking your maiden name back can be a symbol that you are reclaiming the “you” that you were in the past, and breaking away from your married persona.
4. What feels right to you? Some people just like their maiden name better than their married name (or vice versa). If you prefer one name or the other, now is the time to choose the name you want for yourself.
Timing is Everything
When you get divorced, a judge can grant you the right to resume the use of your maiden name. If, for whatever reason, you do not ask for that right to be granted to you when you divorce, and you later decide that you want your maiden name back, you are going to have to go through yet another court proceeding to do it. That will take time and cost money.
Getting the right to go back to your maiden name as part of your divorce costs nothing and takes no extra time. What’s more, nothing in the divorce judgment forces you to to actually change your name, even if you were granted the right to do so. You are simply being granted the ability to change your name if you decide that’s what you want to do in the future.
All things considered, unless you are 100% sure that you will NEVER want your maiden name back, it makes way more sense to put a clause in your divorce judgment that says that you have the right to resume the use of your maiden name.
The Law and Reality
So, how do you change back to your maiden name after divorce? From a legal perspective, all you need to do is to make sure your divorce judgment specifically states that you have the right to resume the use of your maiden name of (whatever your name was). That’s easy. From a practical perspective, there’s a whole lot more to it.
Remember, the court can only grant you the right to use your maiden name. Actually getting everyone else in the world, including your credit card companies, your bank, the Secretary of State or DMV, etc. to actually change your name requires more effort.
Here’s the bad news: there is no central repository of names. That means that, to change your name, you need to go to each individual company or organization, fill out their paperwork and submit it to them, asking for a name change.
Along with each company’s paperwork, you will also probably have to provide them with a copy of your divorce judgment to prove that you have been granted the right to use your name. In most cases, a regular copy of the judgment will suffice. However, you should probably get a certified copy of your judgment because some companies or government offices may require that.
Here’s a tip:
Get the certified copy of your judgment as soon as you can after your divorce. That way you will have it handy and won’t have to delay processing paperwork while you try to schedule a trip to the courthouse to get it.
Make sure you notify these folks of your name change:
Social Security Administration (See: http://www.ssa.gov/ssnumber/)
The Secretary of State or DMV (wherever you get your driver’s license)
Your Employee Benefits Dept. and your Payroll Dept. (You want your name changed on your payroll checks as well as your 401(k) and other employee benefits)
Banks and Credit Unions where you have an account
US Dept. of State (passport) (See: http://www.uspassporthelpguide.com/name-change/ )
All Insurance Companies where you have a policy (including life, auto, and homeowners insurance companies)
All investment companies at which you have a retirement or investment account
Every credit card company you have
Each of the 3 major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax & TransUnion
Everywhere you have any kind of rewards card (airlines, hotels, grocery stores)
All professionals involved with you or your children (doctors, schools, etc.)
Good News, Bad News
The good news is, changing your name back to your maiden name after you divorce isn’t particularly difficult. The bad news is, it is incredibly time consuming and involves a small mountain of paperwork! But, it is very do-able. Just take it one step at a time and remember: you have already gotten through your divorce. The worst is already behind you!
Looking to change your name? Get your free name change notification letter here.