If you are getting a divorce, you may want to begin the next chapter of your life with a different last name. Years ago, it was possible to simply begin calling yourself by another name. This "common usage" method, however, doesn't legally change your name or allow you to change your driver's license. To legally change your name, you'll need to follow the laws in the state where you reside.
Check Your State's Laws on Name Changes
The procedure for changing your name after a divorce is governed by state law. In most states, you can go back to any last name you've used before, including your maiden name or that of a previous spouse. You may also use a hyphenated name if you prefer.
For example, if you changed your last name from Brown to Smith when you married, you could change your name back to Brown or use Brown-Smith. You won't be able to change the last name of your children, though, unless the other parent agrees.
Change Your Name in the Divorce Decree
If you haven't already finalized your case, you can ask the judge to change your name as part of your divorce. Tell the judge the name you'd like to use at the final hearing and include that name in the divorce decree. After the judge grants the divorce and signs the final decree, get certified copies of the decree from the clerk's office. A certified copy has a raised seal on it to prove that it's genuine.
You Can File a Name Change Petition
In most states, any adult can ask the court for a name change. You simply file a petition for a name change at the courthouse and pay the filing fee. The exact wording of the petition varies from state to state but you generally must state that you are not changing your name in an attempt to hide from your legal responsibilities.
Some states require you to attach a criminal background check and fingerprints to the petition. If you live in Hawaii, and unless you include it in your divorce decree, you must file your name change request with the lieutenant governor's office.
Changing Your Name on Government Documents
After your name change has been granted, it's up to you to take copies of the order or certificate to the government agencies that have your official records. You'll need a certified copy for the Social Security Administration to get a new Social Security card. You will also need copies to change your driver's license, passport, payroll records, and tax records.
A Divorce Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding divorce and name change requests can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.