Over the summer I had the privilege of attending a wedding of a family friend. I was enjoying the sunny weather and even sunnier smiles of the bride and groom, when I suddenly found myself grimacing in a less than celebratory way. The words that prompted my social faux-pas facial expression were the traditional words uttered at an estimated 80% of weddings in the US: “I now present Mr. and Mrs. His Last Name.”
Although the pain of my divorce and the accompanying headache of changing my name back is, (thankfully!) behind me, I found myself squirming from the visceral memories of wrestling with the logistical and existential challenges I faced when deciding if, when, and how to change my name after my ex and I split.
To save you the embarrassment of pulling a sour face at your next family celebration, we’ve compiled this post to help you think through the general process you’ll need to take for a brand-shift after a split.
While the actual technical procedure for changing your name may vary state to state, the mechanics are fairly straightforward, assuming you have a Judgement of Absolute Divorce in hand. This is the piece of paper you’ll receive either at the Courthouse after you settle or try your case, or via mail if you settle and live in a state that doesn’t require a Court appearance (a qualified attorney can explain to you the ins and outs of these proceedings, and generally give you an overview about the process in an initial consultation).
If you have your Judgement—- meaning your divorce is finalized and you are legally divorced (hooray!!!)— changing your name is simply filing forms with the Social Security Administration, Voter Registration system, DMV, and your financial institutions.
Sounds overwhelming, right?! Fear not! As with most problems, savvy baller women with some tech can solve the problem, and thankfully for all of us, one of them did. The #girlboss behind MissNowMrs.com saw a market opportunity to support women on their path out of marriages gone south by creating GetYourNameBack.com.
GetYourNameBack.com is a comprehensive website that offers name change packages for less than $30, which include all the forms you need to file, as well as clear checklists that take the guesswork out of what steps you need to take, and in what order. I’ll note quickly that this post is not sponsored by the website—- I just hardcore believe in the product because I know what a pain in the you-know-what it was for me to change my name before this glorious gift was bestowed on us newly single ladies.
If you’re DIY inclined to go it alone without paying for some guidance, resources like FindLaw.com and LegalZoom.com can guide you to specific procedures for your state. Although the process will vary a bit state-by-state, the general procedures stand as thus:
OK, so that’s the deal if you have your final judgment in hand. If you are still in litigation/mediation purgatory, and you feel emotionally invested in legally changing your name ASAP—– as I, along with tons of other women, did—— you likely can still change your name depending on what state you’re in. Your lawyer can give you specific advice for your state, or you can tap LegalZoom again, which has a decent article on the technicalities of proceeding with or without a decree in hand.
Changing before you’re really divorced will likely still involve the court, depending on your state (noticing a theme here?). For example, in California, you’ll need to file an Ex Parte Application for Restoration of Former Name After Entry of Judgment of Order, then the Court will proceed to have a judge consider your request. This process will be smoother if you have your old IDs with your maiden name, like your birth certificate and passport.
Aside from the logistics, if you have kids or have been married for a loooooong time, you’ve likely got questions rolling around in your heart and head about whether to change your name. The debate for moms especially, who think that keeping their kids’ names is helpful from a logistical standpoint, as well as from an identity standpoint for their kids.
For long-term marriages, it can feel even more destabilizing for people who have been partnered for the better half of their lives. While it’s not the norm, our office has worked with women who’ve been married for the better part of four or five decades. For women who have known themselves by a particular last name for nearly half a century who are already reeling from the loss of their spouse, changing their name can feel like the loss of their identity. We’ve also seen the opposite however; women who have been in partnerships both long and short find they reclaim a sense of self-independent from a spouse gone sour.
Regardless of your decision, know that this is a deeply personal decision and that there are no wrong answers. Who you are, in your heart and to the people you love, has nothing to do with the name on your ID.
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