Going through a divorce can be a difficult enough process on its own. When you consider both the legal and emotional ramifications, it can take its toll on you. Changing your name after divorce might be the last thing on your mind. But this one small shift might help you regain some control over your identity and your life.
The name change process might sound daunting, but the courts make it hassle-free. You can change your name with ease during the divorce proceedings or even after the judge's ruling. You do not have to bear your married name at all if it makes you uncomfortable.
Let's take a deeper look at how you can change your name during a divorce proceeding, what to do after the judge's ruling, and how to update your name across your most important documents after the court finalizes your divorce.
Changing your name during divorce proceedings
It is simple to ask for a name change during a divorce proceeding. You may ask the judge to allow you to change your current name during the proceedings itself, and they will tack it onto their ruling with little fanfare.
You can ask your lawyer to convey this information to the judge. Other instances may need you to fill out separate forms titled something like "Request to Restore Birth Name." It depends on your state laws, so this may be something you want to consult with your lawyer.
It is your choice to change your name or not. No one else can force you to change your name after divorce, and especially not your ex-partner. You may feel that it helps sever all ties with them, or you just do not feel all that attached to your married name.
It can be a bit more difficult when you share children with your ex, but ultimately, your name is your own. It should and will always remain your choice alone to change it or not. Regardless of what others may think.
There are still laws that dictate what you can and cannot change your name to during these proceedings. Several states share the same general laws, though others may have more specific rules stating what you can and cannot change your name to.
It is always a good idea to double check your state's laws or statutes, or consult your lawyer on the matter just in case.
What can you change your name to?
Many states will allow you to only change your name back to a birth name or any other prior held name after divorcing.
Regaining an old identity might be just the thing you need to separate yourself from your ex-partner and past marriage more easily.
You may feel a sense of freedom or relief at having your old name back. Rather than being a part of a married unit, you are your own person, free to conduct business, personal affairs, or other aspects of your life in the way you see fit.
If you had kept your birth name or other earlier held name as your professional name, then it will be even easier for you to reclaim your old name as your entire identity.
There is something special about your birth name. It's especially unlike any other name you may take on. It holds a piece of your family's history and a piece of your own history pre-marriage or other name change.
Going back to a birth name may feel like going back to your roots. In a strange way, it may even feel like a fresh start for you to try something new.
While birth names can hold a special significance, a name you chose for yourself can be even more meaningful. Perhaps your birth name isn't who you are anymore, and you feel a stronger connection to this old name.
Whatever your reason may be, it is quite simple for you to change your name back to this name by requesting the judge to do so.
If you were previously married before this last marriage, you may even decide to change back to that married name instead. Perhaps you felt a deeper connection to that partner compared to your current ex or you have more fond memories using that name.
Either way, the courts will allow you this change if you so wish, and your ex-partner (neither one) will have no legal say in that matter.
However, you cannot change your name to something completely different during this process. That requires a separate petition and court order that you will have to undertake after the divorce ruling is complete.
You will need to find evidence of your former name to enact this change. A birth certificate or former name change decree should suffice. Once the judge signs off on this restoration, you will need to update it everywhere else.
Changing your name on important documents
The divorce decree alone is not enough to change your name on everything. It is a ruling that states what you will be legally referred to as henceforth. The actual name change process is more tedious and requires a bit of work on your end.
In fact, you might find it similar to the name change process you might have gone through when you first got married. If so, you know everything you need to do. Just in case, here's a breakdown of everywhere you will need to change your name and how to do it.
Social Security Administration
The first place you must attend to after obtaining your divorce ruling is your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office.
You should start your name change with the SSA, since other places will rely on your updated social security record as proof of name change, along with your divorce decree.
Changing your name on your social security card should not take much time. You can view our dedicated social security name change guide, which walks you through the steps.
All the documents you submit as proof must either be the original document itself or a certified copy by the issuing agency. Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration cannot take photocopies or notarized copies of these documents, so you will need to pay extra close attention to the types of documents you file.
There are a bunch of places you will need to change your name with after updating your social security card. One of the very first (if not the first) places you must visit is the DMV.
Your driver's license doubles as both an ID and the license itself, so changing this right after obtaining a new social security card will help speed along other name change processes.
The reason you must change the name on your driver's license after your social security card is simple. Most DMVs will verify your name change with the SSA.
If you have not yet changed your name with the SSA, the DMV will deny your application until you rectify the name mismatch.
Taking care of your name change with the Social Security Administration first smooths out any wrinkles and bumps you might face later on in your name changing journey.
Note on REAL ID
If you are updating your license to a REAL ID driver's license or ID card, then you will have to bring a few other documents that act as proof of identity, and two proofs of residency in your state that show your full name and address.
Your state may require one or more of these documents at a time, so always be sure to look up your state's DMV laws regarding this matter.
However, if you want a non-REAL ID license or ID card, then you will only need to provide proof of your full legal name.
Changing your name after a divorce requires you to prepare a certified copy of your divorce decree, marriage certificate, and any other former name change documents you may have on hand. This helps to certify and separate your recent name change from any other.
Once you gather the proper documents and fill out your state's driver's license application, you must visit the DMV in person to finish everything. You may have to pay a licensing fee too.
The DMV line can be a slog to wait through. If you set an appointment with them instead of arriving without one, you might find this process breezing by before you know it.
There will also be plenty of other records you will have to change your name on as well. This can include:
- Bank accounts
- Credit card associations
- Mortgages or property deeds
- Vehicle title/registration
- Workplace/school (either your own or your children's schools)
- Utility, phone, and/or Internet bills
- Voter registration
Though the processes for changing your name on each of these may differ, each will at least need you to show proof of identity or the court order with your name change decree on it.
Your divorce decree and driver's license should suffice as proper proof of name change. Use this short list to tick off where you will need to change your name in the meantime.
Changing your name after the divorce proceedings
If you have finished divorce proceedings and did not ask for a name change during that time, you might worry that you will have to endure yet another long, costly court procedure just to change your name back.
Fortunately, there may be an easy workaround. Various state courts will allow you to amend your divorce decree to add your requested name change via a special form.
This form may have somewhat different names depending on the state you live in. For instance, In California, they call it the "Ex Parte Application for Restoration of Former Name After Entry of Judgment of Order." It may hold a different title where you live.
Once you fill out this form and hand it to the court clerk, it is quite simple for them to tack this amendment onto your record after a judge signs off on it. You may then use the amended decree to change your name on important documents thereafter.
You may start using your old last name again without a court order, so long as you use it with consistency. Overall, it is never too late to change your name again after a divorce.
Looking into the laws of your state will help finalize the matter, so always be sure to review them to get a better sense of your rights to change your name.