The change of a former spouse's name is an often-overlooked issue in divorce. While anyone of any gender may request a name change, it applies particularly to women who take their husband's name upon marriage, but then want to go back to a previous name during or after a divorce. California law makes the process of returning to a previous or maiden name rather straightforward, but a name change requires further steps to ensure that the new or changed name is used consistently in all of a person's identifying information.
Traditionally, a person has been able to change their name simply by publicly using a different name. This is commonly known as the "usage method," although it has many limitations and has fallen out of favor as government requires more and more documentation to prove identification. Minors and convicted felons, for example, must obtain official documentation in order to change their name. Various government agencies require proof of identification as a means to prevent fraud, deter crime, or even pursuant to anti-terrorism statutes. For this reason, it is usually preferable to obtain a court order for a name change.
California law allows a spouse, usually the wife in a marriage, to petition the court during the divorce to change her name to her maiden name, or to another last name she has previously used. After a divorce is finalized, a woman may decide to go back to a previous name, and she can do so by petitioning a California court.
Any adult may petition to change their names under other circumstances, and parents may petition to change childrens’ names, but courts often require a valid reason to allow such a change. Invalid and unlawful reasons may include avoidance of debt or past criminal convictions.
During a pending divorce case, a party can request a name change as part of the proposed judgment. A change to a maiden name or previous married name can be included in a final decree of divorce without any additional requirements. After a divorce, a person can make an ex parte application to the court that granted the divorce seeking a return to a prior name. A change to a new name, however, requires a separate petition for a name change. This process may take several months. It typically requires proof of one’s current name and identity, as well as evidence of an intent other than one prohibited by law, such as to commit fraud or to hide from law enforcement. The decision of whether or not to grant a name change, particularly one not incident to a divorce, is largely left to a judge’s discretion.
In addition to court approval, a legal name change requires notification of a variety of government entities. A person obtaining a name change has the responsibility to ensure that the government receives notice. The federal Social Security Administration and the California Department of Motor Vehicles must receive notice in a timely manner. Other agencies that may require notice include the U.S. Department of State, in order to obtain a revised passport, and the United States Postal Service, to ensure uninterrupted mail service.
San Diego divorce lawyer Thomas Huguenor has represented people finding their way through the California divorce process for more than 35 years. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him today online or call (858) 458-9500.
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Photo credit: 'Hello my name is sticker' by InverseHypercube (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.