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

Your name is many things. Names are given to people at birth. When women marry, they might choose to change their names in some way. A woman may opt for a last name that is her prior name and add her husband’s name. She might also decide to give this name to her children. If a woman later decides to get separated, she might realize she wants to return to her maiden name. Doing so can leave all sorts of issues open. For example, the woman might have a college and graduate degree with her prior name on it. She might have professional qualifications she’s earned under her current name or her former name such as a nursing or law license. This is why many women wonder about the legal and professional implications of returning to their maiden name while separated. A woman may want to make it clear to the world that she’s going to make a clean break with her partner and ultimately move on from this relationship.

The Laws

Laws governing separation and divorce do not touch on the issue of a woman’s maiden name. Like everyone else, a woman is free to use any name she chooses. She can also decide to change her name legally at any point in time. A woman also does not have to take the man’s name when she gets married. The choice to take a man’s name is not legally required of her when she gets married. At the same time, many women do make this choice. Once they’ve made this choice, they generally use this married name on many legal documents. A woman may have many legal items with her married name on it. She might have a passport, a driver’s license and a mortgage that has her new name. In that case, the woman should think long and hard about any decision to revert to her married name when she’s separated. Keep in mind that a separation is not a divorce and will not be a divorce until all papers are signed and the details are finalized by both parties. During this time, she may decide to change her mind. Both parties may decide that they would like to stay together instead of getting a divorce.

Making Changes

The decision to change her name means that a woman needs to go through literally all of her documents and get all of them changed. This can take awhile. Getting a new passport can take several months. Sometimes it’s as easy as ordering new checks. In other instances, it can be far more trouble. Changing one’s name on a driver’s license, for example, is not always a simple matter. The driver may need to go down to the DMV and then spend time waiting. They may also need to provide evidence of documentation that verifies their new name to state and national agencies. Looking for prior paperwork and evidence of a woman’s maiden name can be complicated.

If The Separation Involves Abuse

There are certain circumstances where using a maiden name can help protect the woman. Not all divorces are amicable. Sometimes, a woman wants to get a divorce because her partner is not nice to her. He may have even harmed her or attempted to harm her. In that case, changing back to a maiden name can help. The change can provide her with a means of staying away from her former spouse. A separate checking account in her maiden means that the partner cannot check on her spending habits. If she decides to put a down payment on a new place to live, he has no means of knowing about it. The same thing is true of her other movements. She is free to take a job offer, buy a car and other items in her own name. The spouse will not be notified if she makes choices he does not like. This gives her some measure of financial independence and helps free her from a spouse who may be too controlling or may even threaten her very well being. She can also engage in activities such as taking out an order of protection against the spouse more easily.

The Children

Many couples choose to give their children the father’s last name. In that case, even if the woman has primary custody during the separation, reverting to her prior last name can create problems. A child’s teachers may question her right to make decisions for them because she does not have the same last name. Custody agreements may be in her married name. If she wants to get them changed, she may have to prove this is her new, legal name. Children may ask their mother to consider keeping her married name because that name is part of who they are. Divorce can be very hard on children. Children like continuity. Having a mom with a different name can only serve as a continued reminder that the child’s parents are going to move on and their family structure is going to be drastically changed forever. In that case, the woman may decide that keeping her married name is the best choice for her. It can be useful to consult with a lawyer about these issues. A lawyer can answer a woman’s questions about the implications of changing her name during the separation and after the final divorce proceedings.

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