Should You Get Your Name Changed Back After a Divorce?

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A friend, and previous client of mine, sent me a YouTube video the other day that made me laugh and cheer all at the same time. It was a new music video by the Pistol Annies, a country girl group that includes Miranda Lambert who was recently divorced from famous country singer Blake Shelton. The song is called “Got My Name Changed Back”. The video begins with the three ladies walking into a courtroom dressed like they are going to the high school prom and the divorce judge rules that one of them (Miranda Lambert) can change her name back to her maiden name following a divorce. Then, the party starts and they bust open the bubbly right in the courtroom.

In the video, the three country crooners go to a bank with the name of Freedom Bank to change the name on their accounts. Signifying that they are finally free and celebrating post-divorce. I thought – Oh my gosh – this is what I am always emphasizing, that for those finally deciding a divorce is necessary –  Nothing Says A Good Day Like A Divorce! Two of the three singers have been divorced and decided to sing about having your name changed back, which got me thinking about the apparent significance having your name changed back following a divorce.

When I got married, many years ago, I have to admit I was not too keen on getting my name changed. I liked my maiden name, I had 28 years to perfect my signature, loved my initials and let’s face it – changing your name is a gigantic pain in the you know what! However, life is full of compromises and married life is full of many more. Since it meant a lot to my husband, I had my name legally changed.

Don’t cry for me just yet though – I figured out a way to still keep my maiden name in Super Hero fashion. I was admitted to practice law under my maiden name and I would have to make a motion to the court to have that changed, which is a costly and tedious process.  Also, I had invested a lot of money into having my Law License (which is enormous), my diploma from law school and my diploma from my LL.M. (advance legal masters in Family and Matrimonial Law) all nicely framed. All of those perfectly matted and framed pieces of paper reflected years of hard work and huge accomplishments. At the time when I was married, I dreamt that I would some day hang them on my corner law office wall.  Since all of those achievements were under my maiden name, I chose to practice law under my maiden name. The best part is, a couple of years after I was married, my dream came true and I was able to hang all of it on my office wall of my business – Law Office of Helen M Dukhan, Esq., LL.M., Which has now become known as HD Family Law. So, for intensive purposes I am one name by day and another by night. I told you – Like a Super Hero!

While I understand the attachment to a name and I have requested hundreds of name changes on behalf of my clients following divorce, the song “Got My Name Changed Back” and the video got me thinking about just how huge it must be for my client to hear that she may change her name back pursuant to the Judgment of Divorce. She could frame that document, which includes her maiden name, as just one more accomplishment.

During a recent interview, the country trio explained why they wrote this song, they said:

“We wrote this song and I told them, ‘Man, there’s a lot of people going through divorces, and they can’t find the silver lining, and they’re going to be so happy when they hear this that they’ll wanna dance, maybe smile for the first time in a while.”

“Reclaiming your humor after you’ve been so sad,” agrees Lambert. “To me it’s celebrating reclaiming part of yourself. You, your name.”

“[The] original last name is always important to a girl,” observes Monroe. “So it’s like, ‘Got it changed back. Back to myself!'”

There is something to be said about losing yourself in a marriage. There is that age old adage that the person you are in a relationship with should make you a better person, not worse. However, shouldn’t it be that the person you are spending your life with doesn’t make you any other person, but allows you to be the person that you are. Of course throughout life we change and grow, but still deep down inside you should be allowed to You! Unfortunately, all too many times a marriage can smother that person and the couple ends up getting a divorce. While it may seem trivial to attach so much significance to paying a few bucks and having your name changed on a bunch of paper – to many this signifies freedom, a chance to reclaim themselves, and as the singers say in their interview – “Got it changed back” is synonymous with “Back to myself!”.

It must be said though that getting one’s name changed back to their maiden name is not required and is a choice that the women should make for herself with no judgments either way. Some people keep their married name forever, and that is ok. I get asked all of the time, “Now that I am divorced, should I change my name back?” This is a personal question and not a legal one though.

In New York and New Jersey, I always recommend that even if you have no intention of ever getting your name changed back you should still request the right to do so when you are getting a divorce. Once the divorce process has reached its end, you must request that the Court give you permission by means of language included in your final judgment of divorce permitting you to change your name back. If you do not request this permission and the proper language is not included in your divorce judgment, if you ever choose to change your name back for whatever reason, you will have to make a separate motion, pay more money, and waste your time appearing before a judge to obtain the name change.  The notion of having to get permission to get your name changed back to the one given to you at birth may seem draconian, but it is a way for the court to make sure that you are not simply changing your name to avoid creditors, arrest warrants, contractual obligations or in some way violate the law.

While I can’t give advice as to whether a women should change her name back or stick with her married name, I can say that from my experience the main reason most women keep their married name is because they do not want a name that is different from their children. This way of thinking is two-fold, just as I did not want to change my name because it somehow signified everything I had worked for and accomplished prior to marriage, my married name signifies everything I have accomplished during my marriage – the biggest accomplishment being becoming a mother an raising my kids. So, it would be hard to choose which name reflects who I really am.

Reality is, the children will always know that you are their mother regardless of the last name, so if you do decide to change your name back, it should be for no other reason than for yourself.

Like me, you could always decide to go by your maiden name for your profession and keep your married name for family life. Especially because, having gone through a divorce and found freedom on the other side – You are a super hero in my book!

If you would like to hear the song, “Got My Name Changed Back”:

If you would like to listen to the video or read more about the interview with the Pistol Annies explaining the meaning behind the song:

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