Do You Have to Get A Name Change After Divorce?

By Corrina Horne |Updated July 11, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Amy Brown, MSW, LCSW, RPT-S

Even in the best of circumstances, divorce is painful and difficult. When you divorce someone, even if your marriage lasted less than a year, you are letting go of what was likely years of hope, excitement, and promise, all of which have been removed in favor of starting over and building your life up again without your partner. Divorce involves numerous checklists and to-dos, including how to decide on your last name.

The Practice Of Changing Your Name After Marriage

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Taking a spouse's last name following marriage is a long-held tradition. Although that tradition is rejected or tweaked in some marriages-i.e. one spouse hyphenates or keeps her name, or the other spouse takes the traditionally feminine spouse's name-it is still far more common for a woman to take a man's name after marrying.

This tradition is little more than that: a tradition carved out of convenience that grew into standard practice or, in some cases, law. In the 9th century in England, women were required to take their husbands' last names to delineate their heritage or family line. Women were not allowed to hold property or in any other way express their independence from their husbands, so lawmakers created the impetus that led to giving up your birth-given name in favor of your husband's name.

While it is not law, women are often not expected to change their name after getting married. Divorce is far more nuanced. Some people keep their married names for the sake of ease, while others are more than happy to go back to their pre-marriage monikers. Still, others are ecstatic at the prospect of putting even greater distance between themselves and their marriage.

Do You Have To Change Your Name After A Divorce?

You do not have to change your name upon divorce, nor do you have to change your name after marriage: both are dependent entirely upon your choice and your personal preferences. However, when deciding to keep your married name or revert to your maiden name, there are some things to consider.

A name is an important thing in a person's life; your name is a strong marker of who you are, where you came from, and how you see yourself. When someone calls your name, it is usually an instinct to turn and look, and seeing your name can create a feeling of comfort and familiarity. Far from being a token response, changing your name is an important decision to make and should not be done lightly or without weighing all of the possible pros and cons.

Changing Your Name And Moving On

For some, reverting to your maiden name is an important part of getting over a divorce and leaving your marriage behind. The name of your former partner can be a daunting reminder to keep tucked in your wallet every single day, and having to answer to your former partner's name can be painful. That being said, relinquishing a partner's name can be an important step in moving forward and leaving your relationship behind.

Moving on from a divorce is challenging; you decided to devote your life to someone, and learning how to navigate your day-to-day in the absence of that commitment is difficult. Changing your name is just one of the many ways you must determine how to move on and leave your relationship in the past.

For some, changing your name is a pivotal aspect of moving on from your marriage and getting through to the other side of grief and pain. Even if your married name was one you loved, treasured, and excited by, changing your name back to your maiden moniker can empower, uplift, and a wonderful agent for change.

On the flip side, however, changing your name can mean changing many aspects of your life without the actual need or desire to do so. If you and your former partner are on good terms, and your life is well-established using your last name, it might make more sense for you to keep your married name. Whether or not you are pining over lost love, too, might factor in. If you are ready to move forward and let your marriage go, changing your name might not be that important a step in healing.

The Challenge Involved In Keeping Your Name

Keeping your name can prove challenging; differentiating yourself from your spouse might be more difficult if you keep your married name. There are some power and recognition in reverting to a maiden name; it allows those closest to you to see and know that your marriage has ended, without you having to explain or agonize over the decision. Conversely, if you keep your name, you might find yourself having to have an uncomfortable conversation detailing your decision to split more often than you might like.

Keeping your name can also prove challenging with regard to any marriages you might enter into in the future; if you remarry, do you keep the name of your former spouse or change your name again? When entering a serious relationship, do you revert to your birth name, then move on to a new married name? The logistics of keeping your name if you hope to remarry might grow complicated, particularly if your new partner feels uncomfortable or apprehensive about you have kept the name of your former partner.

Name Changes: Children, Careers, And Impacts

A person's name is essentially a calling card. Your name is likely inextricably tied to your children, your partner, your career, and your own family, and either decision bears a significant weight. Although social convention dictates that women change their names, the initial reason for doing so was left behind long ago and is no longer a viable reason for the following tradition. Nevertheless, many women feel pressured to take their partner's name, whether they feel pressure from society as a whole, their partner, or their family. When making a decision, there are many factors to take into account.

If you and your partner have children, you might want to keep your name to have the same last name as your children. Many parents worry about the implications of divorce on their children and their children's' future due to the considerable evidence suggesting that divorce is detrimental to children and fear that changing a parent's name is yet another change that can prove harmful or at least problematic for children. Some mothers mitigate this issue by having children's names hyphenated or hyphenating their own birth and married names.

Your career might also have a role in determining whether or not you change to your birth name or retain your married name. If you have built a career under one name, it can feel like starting from scratch when you change your name. Having to fill out scores of paperwork, alter your driver's license and other forms of identification, and change all of your mail and means of correspondence is quite a hassle, particularly in the aftermath of everything else that accompanies a divorce. Some people might choose to keep their name to preserve the legacy they have built for themselves.

The impact of changing your name after a divorce can be substantial. Your children might be angry, your partner's family might be angry, and your partner might grow resentful and unkind in the face of you changing your last name back to your birth name. For some families and some couples, keeping a well-established married name is the best course of action.

Do You Have To Change Your Name After Divorce?

Divorce Can Be Stressful: Talk About It In Online Therapy

Just as changing your name after marriage is an option, keeping your name after divorce is an option. There are no longer legal precedents dictating how your name functions concerning marriage and divorce. The choice is a very personal one that will depend on your unique circumstances, your relationship to your married and birth names, and your feelings about your divorce your family.

There are some positive aspects of changing your name following a divorce. Some people find that such a declaration is liberating and helps a marriage truly feel over. Changing your name back to your birth name can be a reclaiming, of sorts, of your independence and can be a wonderful way for you to gain closure on your relationship and help you work toward getting through divorce. Changing your name can help you create distance between your ex-partner and their family, too, particularly in contentious situations.

That being said, there are also negatives to changing your name. Losing career headway, having a name different from that of your children, and feeling as though you are starting at square one in your work and social lives, with a name you'd long ago discarded, can all make changing your name a poor decision, and one that can actually undermine any progress you've made in deciding to divorce.

Because the decision to keep or change your name on the heels of a divorce is a big one, and the implications are far-reaching and long-lasting, it may be helpful to consult with a therapist to gain some perspective and determine which of these routes is best for your unique situation, your unique needs, and your own personal set of values. The therapists from ReGain.Us can help you and your family determine which of the two options is best for you or may be able to empower you to make the decision you feel is best for you.

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