Should You Change Your Name When You Divorce?

Nearly every woman going through divorce, at least nearly every woman who has changed her name at marriage to that of her husband, considers when she divorces whether she should change her name. It’s not unusual for her to look at me as we prepare the papers and ask me what I think. The main thought I have about it is that I’m a lousy person to help decide.

Whether you restore your maiden name when you divorce or return to a former married name is the most intimate of decisions, one that’s fraught with notions of family loyalty, exposure to debts, and identity. No, I won’t tell you what to do, but I can offer some observations about names.

First, husbands often have strong ideas about what name the wife they’re divorcing should use. Although she may wish to listen to their suggestions and concerns, she’s not bound by them. Whether a woman keeps her married name after divorce or changes to some other name is entirely her decision. Her STBX doesn’t have a say in it, any more than she could decide what name he should use.

Second, changing your name to that of your children may be handy, but it’s no longer essential. Single-parent families are so common now that teachers and others who work with children don’t even notice it any more when the parents and the children have different names. If they do, it’s their issue, not yours.

Third, it’s a shame that we ask you to make this decision in the midst of dealing with all the other issues you need to resolve in divorce. While you’re negotiating the terms of your separation and divorce, you’re in a time of unprecedented crisis, and I’m a big believer in the idea that people in crisis should minimize the number of long-term decisions they have to make. Fortunately, in many states (including my home state of Alabama), you can do exactly that. The cost (about $25) and hassle of changing your name in Alabama are low. And it’s easy to do it without using a lawyer. Just go to your local probate court and tell them you want to change your name. They’ll give you the form to fill out and sign, and the change will be effective within about three weeks.

So I guess I’ll finish by suggesting that if you’re in doubt about what name to use, and if your state is one of those that doesn’t make you hire a lawyer to change your name, chill. Just leave your name alone for now; you can always change it a year later after you’ve had a chance to begin rediscovering who you are separate from your husband.

32 thoughts on “Should You Change Your Name When You Divorce?”

  1. Lee, I thought I’d share some experiences of my clients of late.

    The 911 security requirements have apparently changed the legal landscape in many states or at least their guardians of name change: their motor vehicle departments. As a result, in some states (Colorado for sure), IF you are fairly certain you will wish to change your name after divorce, you likely will save yourself much grief by taking care of it as part of your divorce and NOT putting it off to later.

    Although a simple name change proceeding traditionally may have not been be required in some states (because of so-called “common law” practices), in the past, it was always quick and easy where it was required. However, by way of example, I know Colorado now requires complete criminal records checks and other paper proofs as part of name change proceedings. I also hear amazing stories of the motor vehicle departments and social security offices insisting on new identity verification protocols and hoops. Even opening bank accounts in new names require extraordinary paperwork including authentication documents.

  2. Great topic. I legally reverted back to my maiden name, but I have been using my married hyphenated name because it is the same as my child’s. My X says that I legally cannot continue to use the hyphenated name and that he will take me to court if I coniinue to use it. Can he do that?

  3. I don’t know, Regina. One way to make it impossible for him to complain is to change your name legally to the hyphenated one your child uses. Depending on where you live, that might be quite simple.

  4. Why can’t the two divorcing people just flip a coin to see who shoots the other? It would be better for the both of them.

  5. I would love for my fiance’s ex to change her name back to her maiden name, it would be great for me since I’m having reservations about taking it after we’re married. Obviously, we’ve had many issues with her and this is one. I think women who change their names due to marriage should then change it back due to divorce. Personally, I would not want to continue using the name of someone I am no longer with.Does anyone know if a man legally request that his ex stop using his name?

  6. Fortunately for your fiance’s ex and unfortunately for you, that’s not the way it works. There’s something deeply intimate, I would say mysterious, about my name. For that reason, I’m glad the law recognizes each person’s right to keep or change his own name. If you don’t want to share the same name as your fiance’s ex, you can always keep the one you have now.

  7. What would compel my x wife to continue to use my last name after our divorce, when her attorney requested as a part of the divorce that her name be retored to her maiden
    name ? We had no children, she continues to use my last name on legal documents, like insurance claims which caused me some problems when I was purchasing home owners insurance
    She even filed a police report for a theft at her residence 5 months after or divorce was final. Signed my name on the claim and signed the check from the insurance company
    for the damage and loss of property in my name ?????

  8. Neighbor just asked if she can change her child’s name to a hyphenated one, incorporating the child’s last name and her new last name. I checked FL statutes — appears court proceedings are necessary to CHANGE a name, but what about adding one? Child would be Smith-Martin, Smith being his father’s name (her ex) and Martin being child’s mother’s new married name . . . thoughts? I said, given the state of Bubbahood here in SW FL, I’d just start using the hyphenated name and do something legal if someone made a problem.

  9. I am getting married this week and still have not figured out how to handle the name change thing. This is my second marriage and I have two beautiful kids (19 & 14). I am a very traditional person and would normally not have any problem w/ the name change but would like to keep the x’s name as this is the same as my kids. My thinking is to keep the x’s name and add my new husbands on at the end. Has anyone else ever done this, is this a common or uncommon thing to do? And. . .are there any legal ramifications?

  10. My question is in the state of tennnessee after being divorced for 13 plus years I wish to take mt maiden name back for many reasons can someone tell me how to do this.

  11. Hello, Lee.

    Frankly, there is another side to this that no one has spoken of: the man in the divorce who wants to take back his name from his ex wife. What legal recourse does a man who no longer wants his wife to carry his name have in getting it back from the ex? My marital experience was sometimes very painful & regretful because of my ex’s sometimes caustic, emotionally abusive, and aggressive character. She still carries my name – and doesn’t deserve to. I want it back!


  12. B. Wilson – I feel for you. I am about to fight to have my ex-wife cut off from my children. She has abused my son and posted pictures and videos of it online. She has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and is just plain filthy. The things she puts online would disgust a sailor. I have full physical and joint legal – and she is $8000 in the hole on child support (never written a single check to me…) She uses my name as if she belonged in the family and is somehow representing the family online – some of her posts are titled “From Miss M***y Mother Fu*king M***S” and “The Royal M***STRESS” – our two children (7 and 8) will see this one day – and I want the shame to stop. I am going to meet with a lawyer tomorrow and see what (besides a restraining order) I can do.

    I have since remarried and have a strong Christian home – so there is little that I cannot overcome now. But there is a deep hurt that you cannot express. Especially if you are a man with traditional southern family pride – there is nothing more important that your family and your name.

    She is trash – and it hurts to see my family disgraced by her actions.

  13. When me and my husband got married I already had one child from a previous relationship and we decided if we had a child we would give them my last name so the children would have the same last name. Now we are getting a divorce and he wants the court to change our sons name to his sir name. is this possible?

  14. When I got divorced my ex-husband wanted me to change to my maiden name which the divorce papers states that but I have not done it. Can he sue me for not changing his last name? Eventhough we were married for 11 years. Is there some kind of law that will protect me because I don’t want to change it because I want to have the same last name as my daughter. Thank you!

  15. Had I known after 8 years hubby’s skank,junkie,whore of an ex is still carrying his name because she “wants to” I would have NEVER taken his name.I adopted her kids because she abandoned them 8 years ago and I feel she has NO RIGHT to carry his or their name it’s disgusting.

    It feels disgraceful to me to know there’s two of us sharing his name .
    I am considering talking the appropriate means to have my maiden name restored to me.
    I am looking into it as I do not wish to share my name with another woman any longer.

  16. I have been married about 9 months and have not figured out how to handle the name change thing. This is my second marriage and I have three grown up kids. I would like to keep the x’s name as this is the same as my kids. My thinking is to keep the x’s name and add my new husbands on at the end. Has anyone else ever done this, is this a common or uncommon thing to do? And. . .are there any legal ramifications? I have to get my drivers licence renwed this week so I need to make a decsions.

  17. As I said above, I think there’s something intimate, even mysterious, about my name. Your idea sounds fine to me, but I’m aware that I cannot know what it feels like to be you or what it feels like to be inside your skin and hear your name called.

  18. I am soon to be married to a wonderful woman with two beautiful, young children. She has been divorced for a short time now and had her name change as part of the divorce. Her ex was an abusive man and she hates the last name that her children bare. I wonder if, when we marry, she will be able to legaly change their last names to mine. She holds both sole legal and physical custody, so I am ever hopful.

  19. I have never been married & my b/f wants to get married. His ex wife still has his name & is a complete nightmare and abuses the system every chance she gets. He no longer wants her to carry his name, but she does it out of spite, they have been divorced for 7 years. She would have no issue taking on a new name if she gets married, however refuses to change her name back to her maiden name. I understand it is her right, because it is her name, however, I cannot stand to have the same last name as her … I really like my last name, but have always imagined I would take my husbands name. Is there anything he can do to request that she change her name.

  20. You have many options. Let’s review them.

    1. You can stop right now, walk away, and leave this man and his ex-wife to fight their little fights and strut and fret their hour on their own little bellicose stage without you. Many would say that’s by far your best choice.

    2. You can jump into the vitriolic cesspool with them, taking this man’s side without reflection and believing the worst about the woman whom he once loved as much as he now loves you.

    3. You can marry him but not change your name. Then you don’t have to worry that this Jezebel has the same last name as you.

    4. You can take my example. My name is Lee Borden. When I closed on my mortgage, I had to sign an affidavit saying I was not the Lee Borden who had robbed a liquor store at gunpoint three years ago. All other things being equal, I would love to have control over every person in the world who uses the same name that I do, but I don’t have that control, and nobody holds it against me. They won’t hold it against you, either, and it really . . . REALLY . . . won’t be a problem unless you insist on making it one. And one absolutely splendid way of not making it a problem is for you to let your future husband handle the negotiations with his Ex. You stay out of it; given his level of animosity toward her, your jumping into the middle of their conflict simply CANNOT end well.

  21. My daughter would like to be adopted by my husband, but I don’t think my ex will agree to that. What about a name change or just adding my husbands last name??? My ex has been out of the picture for years, but he came back this year (lives much closer)and he stops by to visit regularly. We are all friendly, but my husband is the one called “daddy” because he has been around as long as my daughter can remember. She calls my ex (biological father)and his wife by name. They are like family friends, but not at all like parents to her. I’m not sure how to handle the situation… I can see how adoption might be better for my daughter, but It makes me sad for my ex-husband. Maybe we could just change her name… Suggestions are welcome…

  22. I can’t speak for the law in your state, but in mine, you would need to continue to leave your daughter’s name alone unless her father agreed to change it. And the judge would not take kindly to your having her call her stepfather “Daddy.”

  23. In the state a Masachusetts all you have to do to change your name, is make it part of the divorce. I felt my married name belonged to my husband and it was only right to return it to him after our divorce. I wanted to leave room for any partner that may come along for him.

    Now it is my turn with another man who is getting divorced after a 6 year separation. His ex is keeping his name…I feel like second consort! It’s awful, and so 1950’s of her.I have always been so respectful to other women..but I am thinking of taking his name and her maiden name to boot…that should really screw up the mail!!

  24. Lee,
    when it comes to parents, we all have out crosses to bear. I know its tempting to try and create a tight happy family with your new husband. Removing the old one, to some degree, would help that. My advice to you, is realize that this is the situation, your daughter has a blood Dad that isn’t what he should be, but loves your daughter. She also has YOUR husband who loves your daughter enough to make her his own. My God, how lucky your little girl is. How wonderful this husband of yours is..what a man. She is also lucky to have a mother who taps away on a computer thinking about this stuff.
    Keep the peace, remind the men how important they are to this girl and be be happy. Your daughter will grow with a few male role models to learn from, and a mother who loves her deeply. You guys are already on the right track.

  25. Ok, here is my dilema I am divorced with 4 children I kept my first husbands last name since this I have been in a relationship had another baby and we are getting married, do I keep both last names? then I have the last names of all the kids? Or do I just go with the new last name?

  26. As I said above, I think the choice of your own name is an intimate issue that has to do more with how you want to see yourself when you get up in the morning than what any lawyer or friend would tell you. I would ask myself the question how I want to see myself and then decide accordingly. Your kids will be fine. Everybody’s used to Mom having a different last name from the kids nowadays.

  27. My ex caused me so much debt and even though she requested to have her name changed back to her maiden name in the divorce she still uses my name and is continuing to not pay debts and they come back to me – she signs with her first initial which is the same as mine and since she continues to carry my name, they come back to me and my credit continues to be lowered because of her. She even comes to my local town and buys gas and runs off and I find out a year later, this again is on my credit report so I have to pay it off. Yet, I understand there is nothing I can do. Except maybe I can take her to court for fraud if I can prove it and had any money left to do it with. She never returned any of the items she stole from me as she was supposed to also in the divorce and says she sold them for money – or drugs I am sure. We were divorced over 6 years ago and this still continues. What else can I do? Boy, did I make a mistake in marrying her – its good we didn’t have children together or anything as she is nothing but a bad, bad drug person who of course I was dump enough to think she loved me and was going to change.

  28. You can blame her if you want to, but it sounds to me like you need to have a heart to heart with the man in the mirror. Why do you keep paying these bills? Please tell me your name, and I’ll start using it too. I need a new chain saw.

    When you get a charge that you didn’t incur, tell the company billing you for it that you didn’t make this purchase and won’t be paying for it. Simple as that. It’s not your job to figure out who did make it; that’s why credit card companies make the big bucks.

  29. I think it’s the woman’s decision, but more should not automatically decide to keep the married name because it is the same as their children’s last name. One reason is because if you were to get remarried, likely you would be changing your last name and it would be different anyway. Upon filing for divorce, I filed it without intending to change my name but after 3 years into divorce, since he made it difficult to be divorce, I completely changed my mind. I did a legal name change and changed my name PRIOR to divorce. Taking charge of your name and having a different last name helped make me feel like I was putting the past and a bad marriage behind me. I did talk to my kids first, but kids now moms as MOMMY. Does it really matter if the last name matches in this day and age? The answer to me is no, as so many last names don’t match anyway no one thinks twice. I legally changed my name back to my maiden last name and figured if he can delay the divorce – well at least I can change my name. It was one of the best decisions I have made and was very empowering. I think since I had an odd last name and people assumed my ethic background had to do with my married last name was also a factor. I did not want any association with his family background or even his family at all anymore and now that my last name is different people do not assume that anymore. Anyone going through a nasty divorce should consider a legal name change – and if they want to change your name completely feel free. Starting over is not always a bad thing. I have never been happier myself.

    1. Hi Samantha,

      I can’t speak for CO, but in most of the states I know, the global principle is that any adult, male or female, has the freedom to decide what his or her name should be.

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