I got a phone call the other day from a woman whose husband I had represented in their recent divorce. She represented herself in the divorce, so I suppose she didn’t know who else to turn to, but now two years after the divorce she wanted to know if the Decree of Divorce could be amended to allow her to change her name back to her maiden name.
I asked my staff to call her back and tell her I there was nothing I could do for her, and that she would need to contact independent counsel to go about changing her name. She wanted to know why I couldn’t help her, isn’t she entitled to change her name as part of the divorce?
Ignoring the most important fact, that being that I’m not her attorney and would be conflicted from providing her with legal counsel, the answer centers on the question of timing. Yes, a woman is entitled to return to the use of her maiden name as part of a divorce, but you have to petition the Family Court for the right to do so before you are divorced. That petition can be made either as part of the Complaint or Counterclaim in the case, and sometimes even at the final hearing, but once a Final Order is issued, it simply cannot be changed absent limited and rare circumstances. You must address the issue of a name change with your Charleston divorce attorney in a timely manner.
Assuming the request is properly made, accomplishing the name change is a matter of right and requires some straightforward (if not slightly odd) testimony at the final hearing. The Family Court simply must satisfy itself that the person requested the name change is doing so for personal reasons, and not to hide. As such, the Court must be satisfied that the petitioner:
- is not seeking avoid or confuse any creditors, lawsuits, law enforcement officials, or otherwise;
- has never been reported to the Department of Social Services (or its equivalent in any other state) for the abuse or neglect of a minor child;
- has never been denied a passport;
- is not now in or contemplating bankruptcy;
- has never been registered as a sex offender in this or any other state;
- has no existing child support or alimony obligations under her current name; and
- does not now nor has she ever been on a terror watch list.
Assuming the Court is satisfied as to the petitioners testimony on these topics, a name change request will be granted and the Court will order any relevant agencies to allow the petitioner the use of her former name.
A couple of side notes: you should always ask your Charleston divorce attorney to have multiple originals Divorce Decrees filed and certified by the clerk’s office. You will need an original for every entity with whom you update your records, which will include at a minimum the Social Security office, the DMV, and each of your creditors and/or utilities. Please also keep in mind that you are not free to change your name to anything you wish as part of this process; the only name change that will be granted is a return to a maiden name.