What’s in a name? If you are trying to make the difficult decision of whether or not to change your last name following your divorce, you may have already come up against some very conflicted thoughts…
On the one hand, why would you want to keep such a prominent reminder of a marriage that is now over? Is it really a fresh start if you still have that name hanging around?
On the other hand, if you’ve established a long-standing career using your ex-husband’s last name, wouldn’t it be confusing for employers and coworkers to suddenly change it? What if you were trying to keep your divorce on the down low at work? Wouldn’t announcing your name change be an open invitation for office gossip?
And, of course, what would it mean for you to change your name if you have children? Does it make sense just for only you to take your maiden name — or should you change your kids’ names at the same time? Does your former spouse have a say in this, especially if you’re the one with primary child custody?
The answers to some of these questions only come from soul-searching on your part. However, on a more practical note, there are a number of legal name change rules to take into consideration:
Timing of Name Change: At the time of the final uncontested hearing or at the trial, you will have the opportunity to resume your premarital surname. If you indicate that you want to use your premarital surname, the judge will include your desired last name on your Judgment of Divorce after asking you a few standard questions. You then use your divorce decree as authorization to make changes to other documents that will require a name change, such as your driver’s license and your social security card.
Changing Name Post-Divorce: If you are undecided about your name even as your divorce comes to an end, but a few months, or even a year or more down the road, you decide to change it, you can use this streamlined name change packet put together by the State of New Jersey or contact the Family Division in the county in which your judgment of divorce was entered. A simple court motion can have your name changed at that time (your ex-husband does not to be present).
Children’s Name Changes: This is where matters of name changing are not so simple. You are free to make decisions about your own name, but under most circumstances where parents share custody of their kids, your former spouse will need to consent (or at least not disagree) with your desire to change your children’s last names. We’ve blogged before about the factors involved with children’s name changes. For more, read: Whose Last Name Does a Child Carry Post-Divorce?.
Made up your mind about your name? Once you have, here’s a checklist of places where you will need to (or it’s a very good idea to) make your name change official. Our list uses a domino effect. If you start with changing the name on your Social Security card, you can then use this as additional proof for changing other documents and account. The same goes with your driver’s license and passport:
Social Security card
Bank accounts, CDs, and money market accounts (including ATM cards)
Paycheck & W-2s
Retirement accounts and 401K
Investment accounts and IRAs
Mortgages & loans
Employer (email address, work plate, business cards, websites) Deeds & trusts
Car title and registration
Post Office and PO Box
Will & other legal contracts
Medical and dental records
Personal email addresses and social media accounts
Inform friends and family