Married people who took their spouse’s last name are faced with an additional decision during the process of divorce: Should I take my former last name back?

Why You May Be Hesitant

For some divorcing people, this may seem like a small issue in the course of terminating a marriage. There are already overwhelming changes and stresses affecting your relationship status, your finances and your residence all at once. Your future is shifting and you justifiably may not want to add your name to that list of changes.

Another major reason for hesitation is your children.   You may strongly feel that your last name should be the same as your children’s.  Keep in mind that when your children grow up and are out of school, having different last names will be far less significant.  If you have daughters, consider the fact that their names will likely change in the future also.  If your children are mature enough, have a discussion with them about it and air your respective thoughts on the subject.  Your children’s feelings may well surprise you.

Your feelings about your last name may change from the time your divorce becomes final to later in your future.  Changing your last name may be an emotional decision you don’t want to consider during such a chaotic time.

I have seen this scenario with my clients countless times over the years.  There has been many a case when a client was adamant about keeping his or her married last name, only to have to go back to a court hearing months or even years after their divorce is final in order to change it.  Keep in mind that the option (and that is how you should look at it, as an option) to take your former last name back can be preserved in the beginning of your divorce.  All you have to do is ask for it.  And you can act on it any time you like, including never.

How to Give Yourself the Option

What your last name will be is an important consideration as you head toward your new independent future. You can take as long as you want to make that decision. Thankfully, there is no time-frame in which you have to decide.

If you are not ready to make the decision to take your former last name back during your divorce proceedings, your attorney or mediator can help you keep your options open by including the option in the final judgment. This eliminates the need for you to hire a lawyer again (for which there will likely be a fee) and return to court for a hearing if you decide to legally change your name in the future.

After your final hearing when the Judge signs your final judgment, make sure to request at least three certified copies of your final judgment of dissolution of marriage from the clerk of the family court. A certified copy is stamped and certified by the clerk of court as a true and correct copy of the legal document.  By requesting these documents in advance, you will have them ready and available for the Social Security Administration (for a new social security card), the Department of Motor Vehicles (for a new driver’s license) and the U.S. Department of State (for a new passport).

When You are Ready to Reclaim Your Former Last Name

You will need to change your name on your social security card, your driver’s license and your passport to make it official.  In order to do this, these government agencies will require certified copies of your final judgment of divorce.  A regular copy will not do the trick. There may be other forms of identification you will need to change, but these three are the minimum in order to legally reclaim your former last name.  The provision to change your name in the final judgment means you have the right to take the next steps to do so, it is not an automatic occurrence.

Saying goodbye to your married name and reclaiming your former last name is an emotional and personal choice. The proper guidance of your attorney or mediator can prevent future court hearings and additional fees on this issue. Anticipating the need to have certified copies of the final judgment will ease the process if you decide to reclaim your former last name. This decision is completely your own.  Trust me, there is something liberating about knowing you have options open to you when and if you want them!

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Note:  This article was originally written in 2014 and was titled “Should I Take My Maiden Name Back.”  Thankfully, love prevails and the Equal Marriage Act was passed in 2016.  It has therefore been edited to reflect that it is no longer only ex-wives who will benefit from the information in this article.