Can I use my maiden name while I’m separated?

Posted By Adam Denton, Personal Injury On October 11, 2017

The stress of a divorce brings about many different legal and personal challenges. A wife, in anticipation of the marriage being dissolved, may wish to change a married last name back to her maiden name. Questions may arise about whether this is possible or if taking such steps can be difficult. Changing a name after a divorce is quite common.

Not every spouse chooses to return to her maiden name while separated and the divorce isn’t completed. No law exists, however, that forces anyone to keep a married last name while separated. People in the United States have the ability to change their last name at any time. Be mindful that several steps are required when doing this in an official manner.

Unofficially Changing a Name

A person can simply start referring to him/herself by another last name to the public and on unofficial documents. For example, a separated spouse may tell people her last name is “Jones” while “Smith” remains the legal name on a driver’s license, bank account statements, and on tax forms. The use of the maiden name in these circumstances would be akin to a celebrity using a stage name or a writer using a pseudonym.

While taking this approach may be easy in some ways, problems can arise. If legal documents or other official items start showing a last name other than the legal one, situations can get complicated. You wouldn’t be able to deposit a check made out in your maiden name when your driver’s license shows a married name. Even legal problems could arise when the “wrong” name is being used.

Legally changing your last name probably would be a better approach for some. Absent a divorce decree, this means you would be required to follow your state’s requirements for changing a name.

Changing a Last Name in New York

In the state of New York, a name change must be performed in the courts through the “Adult Name Change Petition Program.” In New York City, the petition documents are filed with the NY Civil Court. Elsewhere, petitioners filed with the NY State Supreme Court.

The petition does require a filing fee. NYC Civil Court necessitates a $65 fee while the cost is $210 elsewhere in the state. The court requires a notarized copy of the “Name Change Petition and Proposed Order” form. It might be best to request your attorney fill out the form in order to make sure the document doesn’t contain any errors or inaccuracies.

Other rules apply as well. A person on parole, for example, cannot change his or her name until the probationary period ends. Review your individual circumstances with your attorney.

Submitting a birth certificate must be done. Other documents may be necessary based on the particulars of your situation. If any concerns arise, referring the matter to your attorney could prove wise. An experienced attorney likely knows how to progress forward with issues emerge.

Safety and Privacy Issues

In certain divorce cases, there may be serious concerns about a violent spouse. Questions about privacy take on an imperative tone here. In New York, name changes are public records and can be looked up by anyone who wishes to do so. Also, name changes must be published in the newspaper. Persons fearful of their safety have the option of requesting the court seal the name change. Initially, an immediate sealing of the name change would be performed while the court considers a permanent sealing of the record. Discussing this matter with an attorney may prove to be highly beneficial.

Working with the Divorce Attorney

While some may try and change their name on their own, others find it helpful to work with their attorney. Since an attorney has already been retained to handle the divorce case, refer questions about name changes to him/her before proceeding. The attorney likely can do the work for the name change on your behalf as well.