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I am often asked during initial interviews with my divorce clients whether they can (or should) go back to using their maiden names during the period that they are separated from their spouse but not yet divorced. For many of these women, reverting back to their maiden name has emotional significance. They are ready to shake off the past of a bad marriage and begin a new and independent life. The last thing that these women want is a daily reminder of their old life in the form of their soon to be ex-husband’s last name.
Each state has their own laws regarding the process to retake one’s prior surname both during the pendency of a divorce action and after a divorce decree has been entered. Here in Pennsylvania, a woman who wishes to retake her maiden name must simply file a Notice to Retake Prior Surname with the appropriate court. The filing is easy, and the fee is minimal. A similar notice can be filed after a divorce decree has been entered. Again, it is a simple filing with a nominal fee.
I strongly recommend that such a document be filed before attempting to change your last name with any government agencies or financial institutions. For example, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not change the name on your license without the appropriate paperwork. I suggest reviewing that agency’s website to determine what is required before going to their office. If you wish to change your name with the Social Security or Passport Offices, you will likely need to provide a certified copy of a divorce decree before same can be accomplished. Again, consult the respective agency’s website to ensure that you have all the appropriate paperwork required before embarking on the wonderful adventure that is dealing with a government entity.
Generally, changing your last name with financial institutions is much easier. I would suggest consulting each financial institution’s policies to determine how to accomplish this modification. You are certainly not their first customer to get divorced and, as such, they likely have an easy procedure for you to follow.
Finally, do not forget to change your name with the United States Postal Service. If the post office still has your married name on file, they may return important mail that is addressed using your maiden name. Such a scenario reiterates the need to change your name everywhere and not just with those entities mentioned in this article.
In conclusion, using your maiden name while separated is permissible and should be formalized with a simple court filing. However, it will take time and legwork on your part to ensure that your new name is being used consistently in the next phase of your life.