New Jersey divorce law does not require people to change their names following a divorce, but many individuals choose to do it anyway. Whether it’s to regain an individual identity, to distance yourself from an ex-spouse, or simply to get a fresh start, changing your name can be an important symbolic milestone in your journey to move forward.

The logistics of a divorce can get pretty complicated, but changing your name doesn’t have to be. Below are some tips on how to restore your maiden name in New Jersey.

According to statute N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21:

The court, upon or after granting a divorce from the bonds of matrimony to either spouse or dissolution of a civil union to either partner in a civil union couple, may allow either spouse or partner in a civil union couple to resume any name used by the spouse or partner in a civil union couple before the marriage or civil union, or to assume any surname.

In other words, you are free to keep using your married surname, return to your maiden name, or change your surname to something else entirely. If you decide to keep your married last name, your ex-spouse cannot force you to change it to something else.

When requesting a name change, earlier is better. Most divorce lawyers recommend including a name-change request in the Complaint for Divorce. If there are no criminal charges, creditor/bankruptcy issues, or civil lawsuits pending under your current name, the request should be granted without incident.

If you do not include a name-change request in the initial Complaint, you can file an amended divorce Complaint, or make a motion to change your name at the final divorce hearing. These motions are usually granted, assuming you did not have any of the pending issues listed above.

Technically, the opportunity to change your name after a divorce in New Jersey never expires. However, if you wait six months or more after the Final Judgment of Divorce, you may be required to file a separate lawsuit seeking a name change in the Superior Court of New Jersey. This will be significantly more expensive and require more work than simply including the name change in your divorce Complaint.

Fortunately, the New Jersey Courts put together a resource guide to help individuals request a name change after a divorce has been finalized.

After the name change is legally approved, you will obtain a “gold seal” copy of the Order for Name Change. This order will be required to change the name on many official documents, so it’s important to keep the Order for Name Change in a safe, but accessible, place.

You can now begin notifying all major government agencies, including: Social Security, Department of Motor Vehicles (for an updated license, car title, and registration), U.S. Department of State (for a new passport), U.S. Postal Service, and New Jersey Department of State (for an updated voter registration).

Next, notify any relevant banks, employers, credit card companies, utility companies, insurance policies, telephone companies, retirement/investment accounts, mortgage companies, doctor’s offices, and any other subscription services or member organizations to which you may belong.

We recommend starting with Social Security, since an updated Social Security card is often required to verify name changes on all the other documents. Heading to the DMV next would be a good idea, since an updated license is required to verify changes on many other accounts too.

From experience, we have learned the DMV is the most particular about name changes, so you must bring the “gold seal” copy of your Order for Name Change or Final Judgment of Divorce (if the name change is included in the Final Judgment) with you to the DMV.

Changing your name is a pain, but getting approval from the courts shouldn’t be. If you are looking to begin a divorce in New Jersey, or have already finalized a divorce and want to change your name after the fact, Arons & Solomon can help. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.