Before deciding if you should change your name back to your family name (or to something completely new!) after your divorce, read these pros and cons of changing your name.
Like everything in life, changing your name after your divorce has both upsides and downsides…
“It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names to things. Names are everything.” ~ Oscar Wilde.
What have you always wished your name was? What is your name — is it different than the one you’ve been given, or the one you took when you married? This could be your chance to start fresh and give yourself a name that represents your new life…
If you’re new to the divorce-getting process, you may find Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce helpful — it can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Nobody gives it a second thought when a woman changes her name after getting married, but what happens when he’s no longer your husband? More and more women are deciding not to keep their ex-husband’s last name after the divorce. It’s not as unusual, or as difficult, to change your name as you might think.
Should You Change Your Name After a Divorce?
Here’s a look at both sides of the question…
A name change offers a clean break after your divorce
Whether you go back to using your maiden name or change your name entirely, changing your name after a divorce is a great way to make a clean break with your ex-husband. Just as taking his name when you married was a sign that the two of you are one, changing your name symbolizes your independence and the fact that you no longer wish to be affiliated financially, legally, or emotionally with your ex. Once the marriage is truly over, there is something cathartic and self-empowering about giving yourself the gift of a new name. It can be a way to move on after your divorce.
Should you go back to your maiden name?
Ask yourself honestly if you really want to revert to your maiden name. Many women do, and that’s perfectly fine. However, more women are realizing that they don’t just want to set the reset button on their social life. They discover that they’ve reached a point in their life where they want to make a more profound change — and choose a whole new name after their divorce.
Or perhaps change your name to reflect who you are…
Whether you consider it aging gracefully or finally coming into your own, successfully emerging on the other side of a divorce can be a wonderful time to celebrate the woman you’ve become. Perhaps you’ll start traveling, or take art classes, or learn to salsa dance. Chances are you’ll find that you’re not the person you once were – you changed your life. Just as the new you may benefit from a makeover with new clothes, makeup, and a more flattering hairstyle, changing your name can be an emotional makeover. Your parents didn’t know what type of woman you’d become when they named you at birth. Who better than you to give you a name that fits the woman you’ve become?
The downside of changing your name after a divorce
Let’s face it: changing your name after your divorce isn’t all moonlight and roses! Here are a few reasons a name change may not be a good idea…
If you’re a professional, it can cause confusion
A name change can be confusing, particularly if you’re a doctor or a lawyer with patients or clients who’re used to addressing you by your married name. It can also cause problems if you’re a professional actor or speaker, or if you have a large professional network. If your name is your brand, changing it may not be a good idea.
Also, if you have young children you may find it easier to retain your ex-husband’s name so that you and your children have the same last name. However, with the growing number of blended families, this is becoming less of an issue than it once was.
Changing your name can cause fear-based reactions
There are other reasons women give for not changing their name after a divorce, but unless they really love their ex-husband’s last name, most of those reasons involve some element of fear:
- Are you afraid of offending your parents? Were they offended when you got married and changed your last name from theirs to your ex-husband’s? If so, they’ve already had some practice. If not, why would they be more offended if you did this for yourself now?
- Are you afraid it would be too complicated or too costly? However, you may be surprised to find that it’s not much more difficult or costly than changing your name when you got married.
- Are you afraid that it’s not fair to the children? Fine. If they like Daddy’s name, they can keep it. That doesn’t mean that you have to.
- Are you afraid of change? If you survived a divorce, you’ve already experienced a lot of change. You can handle it if you decide it’s something you want to do.
How to Change Your Name After Your Divorce
Request it in your divorce decree. If your divorce isn’t final yet, there’s a good chance that you can include the request for a name change in your divorce decree. If you’ve been divorced for a while, it’s not too late. Be wary of contacting a lawyer to help you change your name. They’re likely to charge you a lot of money to do something that you may very well be able to do yourself. Contact the circuit court in the city or county where you live. Someone in the clerk’s office can tell you what form(s) you need to fill out to have your name changed legally.
Make copies of your legal name change documents. Once the name change has been finalized and recorded with the court, make lots of copies of the legal name change order. From this point, it really is as simple as it was when you changed your name when you got married. You’ll want to start using your new name consistently and contact every person or organization that you do business with to notify them of the change. Some will require a copy of the name change order for their records. Others will not.
Contact your bank and other financial institutions, employer creditors, Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security Administration (to request a new card – you shouldn’t have to change your Social Security number), doctor’s offices, insurance providers, Passport office (you’ll need a new passport), Voters Registration Office, IRS and state tax department (this can be done when you file your taxes), utility companies, public library, landlord or mortgage holder, and of course, family and friends. Don’t forget to update your will and any other legal documents. And, of course, be sure to let your family and friends know.
Don’t be surprised if you get strange looks from some family and friends. They’ll get used to the change eventually. Or not. It’s your name – you deserve to choose one you love.
How are you coping with your divorce? If you’re obsessing about your past, read When You Can’t Get Over Your Ex.
If you have any thoughts about changing your name after your divorce, please comment below.
Written by Sydney Tyler Thomas, a writer and small business owner living in Virginia. She is author of The Joy of Soulful Knitting: Reflections on the Art of the Craft. You can also visit Sydney at her blog, New Calling.