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What’s in a Name?…That is the question.

By Jamie Berger, Esq.

After your partner gets down on one knee and you say yes, there’s more to consider than planning the wedding. What are you going to do about your name? A newly engaged person is faced with having to decide whether or not to take the fiancé’s last name. Although our modern society has established new norms when it comes to name changing, there is still societal pressure on couples to have a uniform last name. Traditionally, the pressure rests on the woman to take on a new last name. In fact in many states, a man is legally prohibited from changing his name when he marries.

Changing Your Name After DivorceSo you’ve made the decision to take your spouse’s name but then unfortunately your marriage ends in divorce. Now you’re faced with another new decision – should you keep your married name, which may now also be your children’s name, or go back to your own name? In the internet age, changing your name after marriage is now quite easy.  But as quick as the process may be, a good deal of consideration should be put into whether or not to do it. You could do it on your own or may want assistance. The same amount of consideration can and should go into whether or to change your name after a divorce as you gave it before your marriage. But, changing your name after divorce is more complicated than changing it after marriage. Divorced individuals wishing to change their name are given two alternatives.

First, it’s important to understand the authority behind changing one’s last name subsequent to a divorce. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21 provides that “The court, upon or after granting a divorce from the bonds of matrimony to either spouse or dissolution of a civil union to either partner in a civil union couple, may allow either spouse or partner in a civil union couple to resume any name used by the spouse or partner in a civil union couple before the marriage or civil union, or to assume any surname.” So not only are you permitted to resume any name you used before your marriage, but you could take on any last name that you wish.

Once you decide on changing your name after divorce and what last name you’ll adopt, the first step toward making it legal is to immediately request it at the time of the divorce. Ideally, this request will be placed in your Complaint (or Counterclaim) for Divorce. By simply putting it in what’s known as your first pleading, you are only reserving the request, not obligating yourself, to having the Court grant the name change upon final judgment. If you’re still unsure at the time you file your papers, and don’t want to simply reserve the right to change your name, you can still proceed to changing your name at the time of the final judgment. When the final judgment is ready to be rubber stamped by the Court, your name change request will be incorporated into your Final Judgment of Divorce. That signed document gives you the right to go back to all those agencies you went to at the time of your marriage to change your name once more.

The second option is for those individuals who decide to keep their married name even after the divorce. At any time after your divorce, you can file a Post-Judgment Notice of Motion requesting permission to change your name. While it would be unlikely for your ex to oppose this request, he/she still must be given notice of your application and an opportunity to respond. You have to consider how long that may take – filing deadlines, turnaround time for the Court to hear your application, make a decision, and send you an Order – can be a lengthy process. So if you need a name change ASAP, you need to plan ahead.

Regardless of when you make the application, the Court will have to ensure that you are changing your name for the right reasons. Your divorce or motion hearing will not turn into an episode of “Dr. Phil,” but the Court will have to make sure that you are not trying to avoid any criminal proceedings or creditors by changing your name and will ask a few simple questions. In the event an application is filed after your divorce, these answers should be addressed in your motion papers to make the process even simpler.

At Jacobs Berger, LLC, our attorneys are well equipped to walk you through the often emotional process of letting go of your married name, whether you choose to do so at the time of your divorce or weeks, months, or years thereafter. To learn more about changing your name upon or subsequent to your divorce, contact Jacobs Berger, LLC, today for a  consultation.

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At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.