Should I change my name after my divorce? Here’s are things to consider when changing your name in New Jersey

Often at the time of a divorce, a wife (or a partner in a same-sex marriage or civil union) decides to resume using a maiden name or a former name. The reasons why someone decides to change one’s name or not vary from individual to individual. It may be simply a desire to have a name of one’s own or to let the world know that one’s marriage has ended. Often the party who took on the other person’s last name at marriage doesn’t want the name of the person she now dislikes, or possibly she never liked the “married” name from the start.

In many cases, divorcing spouses choose to keep their married name. Typically, this is done for the children. Having a different last name from one’s children can be cumbersome and confusing for parent and child, inspiring questions that are uncomfortable to answer or making things awkward.   After a long-term marriage, spouses often keep their married name, as it has simply become part of a spouse’s identity. The decision of whether to change one’s last name or to keep the married name is strictly a personal one. Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer.

Within a divorce case, a wife can request permission to resume a maiden, former name, or any surname. In the case of a second marriage, a wife can ask to resume her prior married name or her maiden name. Technically the law does not require resumption of a former name, but in the vast majority of cases people choose to resume a prior name.

Although husbands have demanded that their spouses give up their married name, neither statute nor case law permits a husband to require that his spouse resume a maiden or former name. That decision belongs solely to the wife.

At the time the Complaint for Divorce is filed, if a party is considering changing his or her name, that should be included in the Complaint (or Answer if the spouse is the defendant) as one of the requests for relief. Often at the time the Complaint is filed, a party hasn’t made a final decision as to whether or not to change his/her name. That does not pose a problem since the attorney can put the request for a name change into the Complaint, and if the spouse later chooses not to change his/her name, the attorney can simply not pursue that relief when in Court for the final hearing in the matter.

On the other hand, if the wife decides to change her name and the name change was not made a prayer for relief in the original Complaint for Divorce, her attorney can make an oral motion to permit her to change her name at the time of the final hearing in the matter.

At the final hearing, a party seeking to change his/her name will be required to testify as to the name she wants to take, whether she is seeking to change her name to avoid creditors, whether she has filed for bankruptcy, been discharged in bankruptcy, or has been charged with or found guilty of a crime. If the wife can testify that she is simply seeking to resume her maiden, former name or other surname for personal reasons, the request for a name change will generally be granted. In addition, she will need to confirm her birth date and Social Security number, usually in a separate Certification provided to the Judge, and an Order for Name Change will be entered simultaneously with the entry of the Final Judgment of Divorce. The wife’s attorney can and should obtain a “gold seal” copy of the Order for Name Change and provide it to the wife. She will need that document for various reasons, including changing her name on her driver’s license, passport, Social Security records, and for real estate transactions.

If a person decides after the divorce to change his/her name, the law permits her to do so by filing a Motion in the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part. The law does not establish any time limit for the motion to be filed, and there is no need to file a Complaint for Name Change or to comply with the requirements of N.J.S.A 2A:52-1. See N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21 and Olevich v. Olevich, 258 N.J. Super. 344 (Ch.Div.1992), in which the Court interpreted the Statute to mean that any time after the court grants a Judgment of Divorce, a spouse may apply to resume a maiden name and granted such a request made by Motion fourteen (14) years after the entry of the Judgment of Divorce.