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Changing Your Name – or Your Child’s – After a Divorce in Massachusetts
As if divorce wasn’t stressful enough, there are rules concerning changing your name after divorce and the names of any children you have physical custody for. In fact, many spouses who get divorced may not change their names at all and decide to keep their married name if they have one. If you do decide that you want to change your name back to your original or maiden name, this is quite possible and not too difficult. Because your name, especially your surname, is so important, you do need to be methodical about it. Changing the names of any children you have custody of after a divorce is not so easy, as the other spouse must agree to any name change or in the event of a dispute, the name change decision must be made by the court. Each of these decisions is explored below.
Why keeping your married name after a divorce may make sense
There are several reasons why you may decide to keep your married name. For a start, it avoids having to change your name on any identity documents you have, bank accounts and other documents to do with financial management. If you have become recognized at work, in your business or socially by your married name, changing it may lead to a lack of recognition or at least a tie period needed to gain recognition of a return to your old name. The other reason is that unless you change the names of your children as well as your own, they will inevitably have different names to yours. Legally, there is no necessity to change your name after a divorce, but many divorcees are still prepared to do just that.
Changing your own name after a divorce in Massachusetts
The best way to change your name after a divorce in Massachusetts is to request that your original name before marriage or maiden be included on your divorce decree. If you leave changing your name until after receiving the divorce decree, you will be stuck with your married name until you file a petition to change it, which is an added complication.
Once you have obtained your divorce decree, you will need some form of acceptable identification to prove your birth or maiden name. This might be a birth certificate, an old passport, old driver’s license, or old state I.D. card.
Then you need to methodically go through all the various agencies, departments, financial agencies and anything else that has a record of your name and apply to change it back to your preferred old name. A list of all those places you will need to change your name with is given below.
- Driver’s license with the DMV.
- Social Security Administration (SSA).
- Bank accounts;
- Any other financial institution you have holdings with. This affects credit cards and other arrangements you have, such as a mortgage, loans as well as investments.
- S. Postal Service.
- Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
- Voter registration.
- Regular utilities you pay such as water, electricity, etc.
- Insurance policies.
- Your employer.
Note that changing your name may be done in some cases online, or by sending copies of proof of your maiden name and divorce decree by post, but may require sighting original documents. If you can attend an office in person such as an SSA office it is safer to take your original documents with you rather than mailing them.
Also note that if you had planned any international travel that a new passport may take up to 8 weeks to process. Your old passport is then returned with a hole punched through it. You may decide it is safer to use the passport in your married name for an international flight and then pursue all the name changes after you return home.
Changing your child’s name after a divorce in Massachusetts
Changing your child’s name after a divorce is more complicated than changing your own name. For a start, the name they have will be the only name they were given at birth so will be on their birth certificate. Then any name change must be agreed by both spouses. If there is a dispute over your preference to have your child’s name changed to your name then you may need to take the matter to court. The Probate and Family Law court will hear both sides of the case and make a decision which is in the best interests of the child(ren).
You will have to file a petition for a name change with the court. The petition should be accompanied by proof of your own name (your maiden name) together with an affidavit showing you have custody of the child. The court will consider whether it is in the best interests of the child to grant a change of name. Factors that may be taken into account include:
- how old the child is (must be less than 18 years old) and therefore how long the child has had the family surname;
- whether the name change might affect the relationship the child has with the other parent;
- whether the name change might affect the child’s own self-confidence, i.e. that there is no sense of shame attached to a name change;
- what the personal preferences are of the child.
There is a fee and surcharge associated with any name change which is approved through filing a petition. Technically there is no legal requirement to stop you adopting any name if you so wish after a divorce (or at any time) without having to go to court, but to continue using official documents and financial arrangements will definitely need you to have a legally valid name change as outlined above.