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should I change my name after divorceShould you change your name back after a divorce?

There are many conflicting emotions to contend with; a sense of loss for what could have been or excitement for what the future will bring.  How will the change of a name affect your children? Should you wait, might you remarry again?  On top of the many changes that divorce brings, some positive and some negative, to change your name is a very outward manifestation of an extremely painful period.  A private life experience that only good friends and family may be aware of is now public.  Complete strangers and work colleagues are now privy to the changes going on in your life.

When a couple marries one of the big decisions made initially will be…what last name the female spouse will use. There may be a difference of opinion that will need to be ironed out.  Will she keep her maiden name, will she take her new husband’s name or will the name be hyphenated? Many women see this change as an exciting rite of passage.  What impact will this name have on the children they hope to have?  This decision has a far-reaching impact that is often not considered at the time when the relationship is happy and the marriage is intended to last forever.

Some women look at the last name they grew up with as a key part of their identity. Others may have always disliked their original last name because of spelling complications or not liked the sound of it and are thrilled to take a new name.  Some may feel that the transition from their family of origin to a new family with their partner will be solidified by having the same name. I am the child of a holocaust survivor.  My father lost all family members with his same last name.  I knew by the age of 10 that I would never change my name when I married.

If a couple later decide to divorce, again there will be a decision to make.  Should she keep the name she is used to, maybe using professionally and is the same as her children? Should she return to her maiden name immediately, which may be a time consuming and paper-ridden process?

As a mediator, I always ask whether a woman would like to return to her former maiden name. Often she is not sure if she wants to make the change, especially as they are dealing with a myriad of other major life decisions. If the request is made at the time of divorce, that spouse will then have the legal ability to change their name.  It does not have to be changed immediately, but when that person is ready, they will be able to use their divorce decree to change their name without further court proceedings.  If this is not done, and then several years later the individual is ready to change her name, a more involved and costly procedure is usually necessary.

One might anticipate that a spouse who has a hyphenated last name might want to maintain that name, especially if children are involved.  It incorporates the same name as the children and also the former maiden family name.  I have recently found that not to be the case.  A mediation client was very anxious to drop her hyphenated name and return to her maiden name.  She made a point to tell me that hyphenating her name was a bad decision in the first place and had caused countless problems over the years.  The problems for her, to name a few: many on-line registration forms do not have fields for hyphenated names, her records are constantly misfiled as it can be filed under either name and most businesses/physicians find it very difficult to look up her records. Who would think that a decision to blend a family name and a new married name would cause so much trouble!

The process to change one’s name back to a former maiden name can seem daunting.  To begin the process the Judgment of Divorce is required, which states on it the name the person is returning to.  The first place to start is at Social Security by procuring a Social Security card with a new name.  This is accomplished by first filling out an Application for a New Social Security Card. The application must be taken in person to the local Social Security office along with a Certified Copy of the Divorce Decree showing the ability to resume the former maiden name.  In addition, a document is needed to prove your identity such as a current driver’s license or passport.  These documents must be original, so going in person to the local Social Security office makes most sense.  Social Security will not accept copies of the identification documents. Once the new Social Security card is issued, then your driver’s license, passport and all other accounts must be updated. The Social Security Administration notifies the IRS.

There are women who go through this process more than once with a divorce and following remarriage.  The choice to take a new name, resume a former name, retain a family name or even to hyphenate a name are significant and important decisions that should be made with a great deal of consideration towards the future.

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