Does My Name Change Automatically When I Get Divorced?

By Matthew Moore, CFLS

More and more people are keeping their name when they get married, but it is still common practice for one spouse to take the other spouse’s last name. What happens with our respective legal names upon divorce? Most of us understand that we have the option of changing our name back to a former name upon divorce, but we do not know how or when that happens. 

(At the outset, this discussion is only for parties who changed their names at marriage. If your spouse took your name at marriage, the decision to change their name back is entirely up to them.)   

You may change your name as a matter of right, but it does not happen automatically. 

If you are the party who changed your name during marriage, it is your right to change it back upon divorce, and there are two opportunities in the divorce process to do so. But neither occurs automatically. You must take some action to make it happen. If you do not, your name will remain the same. 

You may change your name with the Judgment of Dissolution. 

The first opportunity to change your name occurs during the divorce. If you make the request during the divorce process, then your Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage will include an order restoring your former legal name. (Note that your name does not change during the divorce process. The legal change occurs at the end of the process when judgment is entered.)

To change your name as part of the divorce process, you should include the request for name change in your initial paperwork by checking a box and stating that you wish you former name to be restored. You will have the opportunity to provide the spelling that you wish to use for your restored legal name. Then, at the end of the case, you must make sure that your Judgment form (FL-180) states that your name is being restored, and that it provides the proper spelling. 

You may also desire to change your name during the divorce process. It can be done through a status-only dissolution, which can occur during the pendency of your divorce (but only after six months have passed since the Petition was served on the Respondent). This proceeding results in the early termination of your marital status, but leaves all other issues incident to the divorce (property division, support, custody, etc.) open for later determination. This adds expense to the process, but it is warranted in some cases. 

If you are already divorced and wish to restore your name after the judgment has been entered, there’s a form for that

If you do not have your name restored upon the entry of Judgment of Dissolution, you may return to court any time in the future to make the name change. You do not need to make an appearance or talk to the judge. Just complete and file a form called an Ex Parte Application For Restoration of Former Name After Entry of Judgment and Order (FL-395).  

The court system does not automatically change your name in other governmental or financial systems. 

Regardless how and when you have your former legal name restored, you will have a Court Order for the name change in hand. But what you do with it is up to you. In other words, there is no automatic communication between the Court system and other government systems to apprise them of your name change. You must take that court order and use it to change your name everywhere applicable yourself (DMV, banks, insurance carriers, credit agencies, etc.). 

In many cases, this is a relief. Often, people prefer to take a breather after a divorce, let their current checks run out, or wait until year end before they start the process of a name change. Others find that the notions of closure and making a complete break from their spouse require an immediate change. This is up to the individual. 

Whether you decide to change your name in the process, or to wait until after judgment is entered, Family Law Mediation with a Certified Family Law Specialist attorney is the best way for both parties to remain informed, educated, and in control of their divorce.