Changing Your Name After Divorce: FAQ

Many people that change their names upon getting married understandably want to change their names back after a divorce. This article provides tips and insights on legally changing your name after a divorce, guided by some common questions.

When I got married, I changed my last name to my husband's. Now we are getting divorced and I want to change back to my maiden name, how do I do that?

The process varies by jurisdiction, but in most states it's pretty easy to request the divorce court judge to enter a formal order changing your name after divorce. If your divorce is finalized and contains a court order regarding your name change, that serves as an official record of your name change.

Simply get a certified copy of the court order as proof of the name restoration. You can then use this copy of the court order to get your name changed on your identification cards, bank accounts, magazine subscriptions and anything else that you want to show your changed name.

What if the divorce decree does not contain an order changing my name?

If your divorce is finalized and does not contain a court order to change your name after divorce to what it was before the marriage, you should check to see whether you can request the court to modify its order to include such language that would change your name.

Some states allow this even if the divorce has been finalized. As an example, if you live in California, you would have to file an Ex Parte Application for Restoration of Former Name After Entry of Judgment of Order, otherwise known as form FL-395. 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 request for a name change and you cannot have it entered into the court record, you'll still most likely be able to change your name after a divorce, although the process may be a little more work especially if you want to take on a completely new name.

If you have some documentation that has your old name on it, such as a birth certificate or passport, then you shouldn't have much worry. Indeed, some states require that you only start using your old name again and request that your name be changed on all of your personal records.

You're far less likely to run into problems when restoring a previous name that you used before marriage than if you want to take on a completely new name. However, there may still be some paperwork barriers that you have to jump over in order to get everything changed to how it should be. If you're a recent immigrant or can't find appropriate documentation of your old name, you could face even higher barriers with changing your name after divorce.

I changed my name after a divorce back to what it was before the marriage. Can I now also change the name of my children?

Many courts have traditionally held that the father of a child has the right to insist that the child continue to use the father's last name as long the father continues to fulfill his duties as a parent. Although this traditional rule is still used by many courts, some jurisdictions are changing the way they approach this issue (i.e. some families have two mothers or two fathers).

Under current laws and trends, a court may order a child's name to be changed to the mother's maiden name when it is clear that doing so is in the best interest of the child. Courts will look to a number of factors when making this decision such as:

  • The age of the child;
  • The strength of the mother-child relationship;
  • How long the child has used the father's (or other spouse's) name;
  • Any negative impacts that the child would suffer if the name change was ordered; and
  • Any benefits to changing the name (such as the mother re-marrying).

Courts will need to balance these factors against the strength of the child's relationship with the other spouse. What it all really comes down to, as it does in many court decisions about children, is what is in the best interests of the child.

However, even if you do end up with a court order that changes the children's names to your own original last name, you can't change the legal relationship that exists between the other spouse and the children.

Changing names will not change any rights or responsibilities of either parent when it comes to visitation, child support payments, or inheritance or intestacy rights. These changes will only come about if a parental responsibility is changed by a court order, such as a modified custody agreement, or if the child is adopted by a stepparent.

If you're planning on getting remarried and your new spouse is going to adopt your child through stepparent adoption, part of that adoption process can be a name change for the child.

Does it cost anything to change my name?

It generally depends on your divorce decree. Again, you may not need to do or pay for anything more than getting a certified copy of the decree. Check with the clerk of the court where your divorce proceeding was handled. While changing your name after divorce may seem daunting, there may be an easy route for you.

Consider Getting Professional Legal Help with Your Divorce

Divorce is a difficult process that can be made even more difficult by the emotional toll of splitting a family. Whether you're just starting the process, changing your name after a divorce, or have other related legal needs, sometimes just having the right lawyer can make all the difference. Find a family law attorney near you for help getting through these challenges and getting back on track.

Next Steps

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