Though it may seem like an old-fashioned tradition, the fact is that in our culture, it’s still customary for a woman to take her husband’s name. So much so that today, around 70 percent of married women do, according to an extensive 2015 New York Times-sponsored Google Survey that also drew on data from the Census Bureau, Social Security Administration, and NYT Wedding pages. About 20 percent keep their birth name, and 10 percent hyphenate or choose another option.
When going through a divorce, many women face a tough decision about whether to keep their married name or restore their former one.
There’s no right or wrong answer! The choice is very personal, with numerous factors to weigh and pros and cons on both sides.
Here are four things to consider when deciding whether to keep or change your married name after divorce — and tips for how to proceed if you choose to go through with the change.
The children. Divorce is difficult for children, so it’s essential to consider what impact your name change might have on how they perceive and process the split. From an emotional standpoint, if they’re keeping their father’s name and you change yours, it may deepen their sense of rift and disconnect in the family. It’s also true that it can cause some confusion with school, programs, camps, and so forth when the parents have different names. Kids may feel pressure to explain. Many mothers keep their married name because of the children, but it’s not necessary.
Career. For many women, their professional life is tied to their name. For example, you have a business in your married name; if your clients or patients know you by it; if you’re an author, entertainer, public speaker, personality, or in the era of social media, brand, you may not want to change your name.
Logistics. Some divorced women keep their married name because it just seems easier. So if leaving behind your ex’s name is important to you, don’t be afraid of the hassle. While the list of people, places, offices, and organizations with which you’ll have to make a name change is long, legally, the process is relatively straightforward. There are steps you can take to simplify.
Pause for a moment and sit with your name. How does it make you feel? How is it tied—or not—to your identity at this time in your life? Is it part of who you are on a fundamental level? Or does it bring up painful emotions—loss, anger, resentment, betrayal, failure, anxiety? Is having your husband’s name causing you to hang onto the past, or is it keeping you from moving on? Would changing it feel like a fresh start? Would it be a kind of empowerment, a significant symbol? Does your birth name resonate more with you now, or does it feel unfamiliar after a lengthy partnership? Do you dread having to explain? These are all valid feelings and considerations. Ask yourself what you want to do.
If you change your name, here’s how to keep it simple.
In California, your post-divorce name change is straightforward and free of charge, but it is easier to do so during your divorce proceedings before your split is final.
When you file your petition, you can indicate on the form that you wish to restore your former name. Also, ask your attorney to ensure that the name change is included in your settlement or judgment.
If your divorce is final and the name change was not included in your divorce decree, you must file an Ex Parte Application for Restoration of Former Name After Entry of Judgment and Order (form FL-395). You can find the form online or visit your County Clerk’s office to obtain one. You will also need your stamped petition and divorce case number, the date your judgment was filed with the court, and a self-addressed stamped envelope. It will typically take 2-4 weeks to process the request.
Note that if your divorce was finalized in a state other than California, you should contact that court to inquire about a name change. If there is no simple process, you can file a petition for a name change in California.
Make a list for yourself everywhere you’ll need to change the name. Be sure to include: Social Security Administration, banks and financial institutions, credit cards, insurance, taxes/IRS, DMV, voter registration, passport, utilities, healthcare providers, employers, and so on.
Profoundly personal and sometimes emotionally loaded, the decision to keep or change your name is entirely up to you. The process doesn’t have to be difficult if you decide to drop your married name. Our divorce attorneys serve Marin County and areas all around California. The veteran attorneys at SFLG are experienced in all areas of family law and can help walk you through the steps.