For most people, getting a name change after divorce is just one more paperwork nightmare that they’d rather not have to deal with. Even if someone is excited to get their maiden name back, they’re probably still dreading all the red tape that goes along with doing that.
But changing your name after divorce doesn’t have to be a huge hassle.
It does, however, require some planning and forethought if you want to do it as easily and simply as possible.
Should You Change Your Name After Divorce?
Step number one in getting a name change after divorce is deciding whether you want to change your name at all.
That seems pretty basic.
But that simple question goes far deeper than you might think.
Your name is more than just a conglomeration of letters. It’s the way you identify yourself. It’s a statement of who you are.
If you’ve been married for a long time, your identity is likely tied to your married name. Other people – including your business or career colleagues - know you by that name. Your kids share that name with you. Going back to a name you stopped using decades ago may make you feel like you just took a giant step backward in life.
Because of all of that, changing your name after divorce can be a bigger deal than you think. Changing your name can trigger a lot of complex emotions. It can also cause a lot of business, social and practical complications.
What’s more, changing your name after divorce is usually an “all or nothing” decision. Using your maiden name for some things, but your former married name for others, will complicate your life at a level you probably don’t want. Plus, once you make that change and go back to your maiden name, you’re stuck. You can’t change your mind later and get your married name back.
For all of these reasons you need to be very clear that you want to change your name before you do it.
If you’re struggling decide whether going back to your maiden name will be right for you, here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you make your decision.
Questions for Figuring Out Whether You Should Change Your Name
- Why do I want to change (or keep) my name?
- How do I think about myself? What name do I use to identify myself to myself?
- How will I feel about myself if I change my name?
- How will I feel about myself if I don’t change my name?
- How will I feel about having a different name than my children?
- What complications will having a different name than my children cause me at my kids’ school, at their activities, or with their doctors?
- How will my kids feel if I change my name?
- How will changing my name affect me at work or in my business or career?
- Is my professional reputation tied to my married name?
- If I change my name, will I miss out on business or business opportunities because people won’t recognize who I am?
3 Steps To Getting a Name Change After Divorce
Once you’ve decided that you want to change your name after your divorce, you need to take 3 steps to make it happen.
Make sure you have secured the legal right to change your name.
Make a list of everywhere that you want or need to change your name.
Submit the paperwork that each office/agency/company requires in order to actually change your name.
Here’s what you need to know about each step.
Step 1: The Legalities of Changing Your Name After Divorce
Changing your name after your divorce isn’t particularly complicated. But it does require you to set things up properly during your divorce.
If you want to change your name after your divorce your divorce judgment must specifically state that fact. It must state that you have the right to resume the use of your maiden name (or any other former legal name you’ve used in the past).
If your divorce judgment doesn’t state that, then you’re going to have to do even more paperwork to get your name back later. You’re either going to have to amend your divorce judgment to give you that right OR you’re going to have to file a whole new case in court just to change your name. Both of those options are time-consuming and expensive.
Making sure your original judgment allows you to change your name will save you a lot of time and money. What’s more, even if you’re not 100% sure you want to take your former name back, it still makes sense to include a provision in your divorce judgment that give you the right to do so. Once that provision is in there it become your CHOICE whether (and when) you want to make that change.
(NOTE: Depending upon where you live, [for example, in California] you may need to file an additional court form after your divorce requesting a name change. Check the law in your state to find out what your specific requirements are.)
Step 2: Making Your List
Once you’ve gotten a divorce judgment that gives you the right to resume the use of your former name, and filed any other necessary court paperwork, changing your name is just a matter of legwork.
Unfortunately, for most people, it’s a LOT of legwork! That’s because there is no central office you can notify that will change your name in every place you want it changed all at once.
You have to change your name – yourself - in every single government office, bank, credit card company, etc.
Here’s a list of the places you’ll want to make the change.
Level 1 – Most Important Places to Change Your Name
Social Security Administration (Social Security Card)
Secretary of State/Department of Motor Vehicles (Driver’s License)
U.S. Department of State (Passport)
Voter Registration Office (Voter Registration Card)
Level 2 – Other Legal and Financial Places to Change Your Name
Your employer or HR Department so that your name is changed for payroll and employee benefit purposes.
Every bank and/or credit union you have an account at.
Every financial institution at which you have a retirement or investment account.
Every insurance company you have a policy with (including auto, home, life, disability and health insurance companies)
Vehicle titles and registration.
All credit card companies you use.
Student loan agencies.
Your Will and/or Trust.
Your kids’ school.
Step 3: Submitting Your Forms: The Mechanics of Changing Your Name
As you can see, changing your name requires a LOT of paperwork! Collecting the right documentation before you begin this process will save you a TON of time (and a lot of frustration!) later.
That means that when you get divorced, you would be wise to get at least one (or more) certified copy(ies) of your divorce decree immediately. That will save you the hassle of having to go back to court and get more copies later.
You will also probably need your current passport, your current driver’s license card and a birth certificate too.
Next, check with each and every agency about the paperwork you’ll need to submit to them in order to change your name. Most places require you to either mail in paperwork or physically bring it in to their office with you. Making sure you have the right paperwork with you will keep you from having to re-do your application after it gets bounced for not having the right documentation with it.
If you want to preserve your sanity – be organized! Make a list of all of the places you need to change your name. Start with the Level 1 agencies listed above and work your way down the list.
Because your Social Security card, driver’s license and passport are used as identification in so many places, you’re going to want to change those first. Then, once you’ve got those pieces of identification updated, you can use them to update everything else.
After that, keep a list of all the places you still need to change your name. (If you’re a spreadsheet kind of person, making a spreadsheet for all this will help a lot!)
Make a note of what forms each agency or company requires you to submit to change your name with them. Note also what supporting documentation you need to submit to make your name change. Then note when you submitted your documents to them, and keep track of their response.
There’s Gotta Be an Easier Way!
Getting a name change after divorce isn’t rocket science. But it IS an incredible pain in the @#$!
If you’ve read this far you’re probably asking yourself if there’s an easier way to do all this.
The answer is YES … and NO.
Let’s start with NO.
Only YOU can apply to change your name. What’s more, you have to apply for a name change with each agency/institution/government office separately.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that you don’t have to do everything yourself.
For a small fee, certain companies, like HitchSwitch, will streamline the name change process for you. They will provide you with customized, pre-populated and pre-completed name change forms. That way you don’t have to spend hours on the internet researching which forms you need to complete and submit to which agencies.
Depending upon the level of service you buy, HitchSwitch will also provide you with:
- A customized name-change checklist,
- Pre-stamped envelopes, and
- Email or Concierge-level customer service to answer any questions you may have about changing your name.
What’s in a Name?
The bottom line when it comes to getting a name change after divorce is that it’s not easy. (Or at least, it’s not easy right now. As information gets more centralized in the future that could change.)
The question you have to ask yourself is: Is it worth it?
Do you want to be identified by your married name? Or do you want to start fresh with a name that doesn’t tie you to your ex?
There are no right or wrong answers.
There is only your answer. And your answer depends on who you are, and who you want to become.
FYI: I've included links to HitchSwitch because I think they provide a valuable service. The links to them are affiliate links. If you buy services on HitchSwitch, I will get a small commission from them. You are welcome to use HitchSwitch, any similar service provider, or do everything yourself. It's totally up to you. The links are just here for your convenience.