Many people who go through a divorce have to decide if they want to change their last name after the divorce is final.  Some people opt to keep their last name, while others seek to change it as part of their push for a clean slate.  But how does one change their last name following a divorce, and should a parent change their children’s last name to match their new surname?

Changing Your Name

If you want to go back to the name you had before your marriage, it’s best to address this issue during your divorce proceedings.  Speaking to your family law attorney about switching back to your old name can save you from spending money on additional court fees once the divorce is final.  Oftentimes the potential name change is brought up during divorce proceedings, but be sure to voice your concerns to ensure everything goes as planned.  Also, make sure you ask for copies of the court order once the judge approves your name change.

Changing Your Child’s Name

Originally, courts ruled that the father had automatic rights to have his child keep his last name as long as he continued to play an active role in the child’s development. This process has changed over the years, and currently a child’s last name may be changed if it is “clearly in the best interest of the child”.  This doesn’t offer a concrete definition for when a child’s last name may be changed, but some factors that influence a judge’s decision are the length of time the father’s name has been used, the strength of the mother-child relationship and father-child relationship, and the possible future name changes that may occur if the mother plans to remarry.  A parent should consult with their children before filing a court order to have their last name changed.

Steps to Consider

Changing your last name is a big decision, and there are many steps to consider before going through the process.

  • How will this affect my career?  Depending on your career choice, a name change can create some confusion.  If you are self employed or have built up a large client base under your current last name, consider how the change may affect your business.  For example, doctors and psychiatrists are often known by their last name, so consider how you’ll inform clients if you change your name.
  • Will I remarry soon?  If you know you plan to re-marry in the future, you might consider keeping your current last name.  While it may bring back memories of the divorce, keeping your last name can prevent you from going through a bunch of name changes in a short period of time.
  • Consult with your children.  You may have different feelings about your ex-spouse than your children do, so ask them for their opinion before changing their last name.  If children are already in school or have identified with their current last name, it may be wise to let them keep it.  They’ll always be your children regardless of the last name they have.