Name Changes

After finalizing a divorce, you may want to restore your former name if you took your spouse’s name when you married. This is usually a straightforward process because your former spouse has no right to contest a name change. Sometimes a final judgment in a divorce proceeding will contain an order for a name change. You can use copies of this order to change your name on identification papers and personal records, such as your passport, your driver’s license, and other government-issued documents.

If the final judgment in your divorce does not include a name change order, you may be able to modify the final judgment to restore your former name. States such as California have specific forms for this purpose. However, you should not worry if the divorce judgment does not include your name change. You still should be able to restore your former name by using a birth certificate or an old passport as proof. Simply go back to using your former name, and ask your state to change your name on your personal records by using the forms that it provides.

Changing Your Child’s Name After Divorce

If you have primary custody of your child after a divorce, you may prefer that the child carry your name instead of his or her other parent’s name. To achieve this goal, you can file a petition with the court to change the child’s name. This petition will be granted if a judge finds that it is in the best interests of your child. Fathers who remain active in the lives of their children after divorce no longer have an absolute right to have their children keep their last name, although courts still seem likely to rule that a child should keep the father’s name in these situations.

When a father and child do not have a strong relationship, a court is more likely to grant a petition for a name change. This is especially true if the mother and child have a strong relationship and if the child did not carry the father’s name for very long. A mother who has remarried since divorcing the child’s father also can argue that a child of whom she has primary physical custody should be allowed to share the name of his or her new family. Children may be more emotionally secure if they feel that they are a part of the home where they live, and sharing a last name with the people who live there bolsters that sense of identity. That said, the father-child relationship is an important concern that courts will balance against these factors. Every case is different, and the best interests of the specific child at issue will guide a judge’s decision.

In situations when the mother of a child has remarried, stepparent adoption may offer an alternate route to changing the child’s last name. This is a simpler and less expensive or time-consuming process than other types of adoption, so you may want to consider it instead of petitioning the court directly to change your child’s name.

A name change is only that; it has no legal effect on more significant rights and responsibilities of former spouses who had children together. Child support payments, child custody rights, and child visitation arrangements will remain the same even if a child’s last name changes. These are parts of a final judgment in a divorce proceeding that cannot be altered unless you approach the court to change them.