Reverting To Maiden Name

One of the many decisions women face during the divorce process is whether or not reverting to their maiden name is something they want to do. 

By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D. 

While some women choose to keep their spouse's last name for personal or professional reasons, others may decide to revert to their maiden name. Changing your name after divorce is optional and not something that is required. In other words, your ex-spouse can't force you to drop your married name if you don't want to (even if the divorce decree allowed it).

It's important to note that you can't legally change your last name without court documents. There are two main methods for changing your name after divorce:

  • By Divorce Decree: All states allow you to take back your birth name or previous name in your divorce decree. If your divorce has already been finalized, you may be able to file a motion to modify the decree and request a name change. 

  • By Court Order: If your divorce decree didn’t include a provision to take back your maiden name, you can legally change your name by obtaining a court order. This typically involves filing a name change petition with the court, paying the fee, and attending a hearing to present your case.

Requesting to change your name and actually getting it done can bring up a lot of questions about the process. Can I make the name change part of the divorce decree? How soon in the divorce process can I change my name? Who do I need to notify that I'm reverting to my maiden name? Find answers from the legal expert to these and other questions below.

Reverting to Maiden Name FAQs

How do I change my name after divorce?

Sheila's Question: I want to change my last name back to my maiden name, but I don't have a copy of my finalized divorce. How can I get my name changed without it?

Brette's Answer: You'll have to get a copy of the divorce decree. The simplest way to do this is to call the county courthouse where your divorce was granted. If your divorce decree gave you permission to do so, you can just go ahead and do it, using that as your documentation. Just show the divorce judgment to the DMV or Social Security to get your name changed first. Once that is changed, you can use that as proof for everything else.

If your decree did not give you the right, you will need to file a legal name change proceeding in your state. You can hire an attorney to help you with this. 

Can the divorce state that I will change back to my maiden name?

Karen's Question: I just received divorce papers 5 days ago. It is uncontested and I don't have the finances for an attorney. Without an attorney, how would I have the final decree state that I wish to have my name changed back to my maiden name?

Brette's Answer: It is routine for a judge to include a provision in the decree that either party can return to a pre-marital name. However, to make sure, you will need to respond or appear and just make sure that is the case. You need to find out what your state's requirements are for appearing - you may need to just file a form or you may need to show up in court.

Why is a divorce provision required to revert to your maiden name?

Dawn's Question: Why is a provision required in order for a woman to revert to her maiden name after the divorce? It is almost as if the husband's permission is required.

Brette's Answer: In most states, a provision is added allowing either party to revert to their pre-marital name because men sometimes change their names also. The provision is necessary because you cannot legally change your name without a court order. If you don't do it through your divorce, then you need to do a separate name change proceeding. Anyone can change their name, but they always need court permission to do so.

When does a name change go into effect?

Dani's Question: I have requested for my maiden name to be restored once the divorce is final. Assuming the divorce decree goes through as planned, will this affect my domestic travel plans that take place a week later as my flight info was booked in my married name?

Brette's Answer: Your name doesn't change until you change it on all your documents, such as your license and passport, etc. 

Can I request a last name other than my maiden or married name?

Janet's Question: When my divorce decree is final I no longer wish to use my married name. However, due to an abusive father, I do not wish to use my maiden name either. Can I request a specific last name other than my maiden or married names?

Brette's Answer: You should ask your attorney. Normally a divorce decree gives a person the right to revert to a previous name.

How long do I have to change my name after divorce?

Stephanie's Question: Our divorce decree states that I will retain my maiden name. How much time do I have to change my name if I'm not ready to do it right away?

Brette's Answer: Divorce decrees usually give a woman the right to resume the use of premarital name if she wishes to do so, but do not require it. Therefore, you can do it whenever you want.

Am I obligated to take back my maiden name?

Annette's Question: It was granted in my divorce decree that my legal name be switched back to my maiden name. Now I am back with my ex-husband, so I am still using my married name. Did the decree gave me the option to change my name or did it automatically change it to my maiden name?

Brette's Answer: This kind of clause usually gives you the option to switch back, but I can't tell you what your order says. It's up to you to change your name on all documents after divorce if you wish to do so. If you don't wish to, you don't have to in most cases.

Can a woman be forced to change her name after divorce?

Cheryl's Question: My fiancé's ex-wife didn't take back her maiden name after the divorce. Can we get a court order requiring her to go back to her maiden name?

Brette's Answer: No. It is entirely up to his ex-wife what name she will use after the divorce. Even if their divorce decree included a stipulation stating she could go back to it, she wouldn't have to.

Can I use my maiden name during our separation?

Karen's Question: Can a legally married woman, who is separated from her husband, start using her maiden name even though they are not divorced?

Brette's Answer: You can, but if you want to legally get it changed on things such as your driver's license you would need to legally change your name, which involves a court procedure or a divorce decree. Good luck.

Can I start using my maiden name before the divorce is finalized?

Stephanie's Question: Does the divorce need to be final before you can go back to your maiden name, and will it be wise to do so if he is still paying some of the bills?

Brette's Answer: You can use your maiden name at any time you want. To change it on legal documents such as a driver's license, Social Security card, or passports though you need a court order, which usually happens in your divorce decree. What name you use has no impact on bills or settlement.

Does my ex need to sign the amended decree allowing the name change?

Lori's Question: My attorney DID NOT include the right for me to revert to my maiden name in the initial paperwork, even though I requested it. He has sent in a motion to have the divorce decree amended to include that information. While I understand that I need the court's approval, my attorney is telling me that my EX HUSBAND has to sign the amendment giving HIS approval. Do I really need to have him sign for me to take back my maiden name?

Brette's Answer: Anything that is part of your divorce must either be agreed upon by both of you or ordered by the judge. Motions must be served on the opposing party. Your ex doesn't exactly have to approve, it's just easier if he does because otherwise you will likely have to have a brief hearing so the judge can include this in your judgment of divorce. Each state is different however. 

What if a reverting to maiden name provision wasn't in the decree?

Juanita's Question: My ex and I did a do-it-yourself uncontested divorce. I wanted to have my former name restored, which is the same as my children, but messed up and neglected to put it in the divorce petition. How do I get the divorce decree modified, to state I have my former name restored? Do I have to go back into court to do this legally? I need a court order to change my driver's license, SS Card etc.

Brette Answers: It really depends on the procedures in your state. Go to the court clerk's office to find out what you need to file. Most likely a modification petition or a notice of motion for a name change. In some states, both will require a motion and an appearance. Name change often requires publication in a newspaper and may take longer.

What if the judge approved the Maiden Surname but it's not in the decree?

Marci's Question: I filled out the paperwork and asked for my maiden name back in my divorce. The judge asked me if I was going to take my maiden name back and I said yes and signed it. I got my "certification of report of dissolution of marriage" and it has NO listing of "Maiden Surname". I'm trying to find out HOW I can show that my name was changed.

Brette's Answer: Call the court clerk and explain what happened. It sounds like it was an oversight when your divorce was finalized. It should be corrected.

I can't get a license because my decree doesn't have a name change provision.

Kelly's Question: I'm divorced so I started to change my name. No problem with the social security office. But when I took the same documents and my new social security card to DMV they wouldn't do it because the divorce decree didn't have a name change provision. What do I do from here?

Brette's Answer: Contact the court and ask that the decree be amended to include that.

Will everything be automatically updated with my maiden name after divorce?

Mailin's Question: In the divorce decree it states the name change is granted back to my maiden. Do I have to change it or am I allowed to keep the married name if I decide to do so? Will it change any place automatically from the court system or is it only legally changed once I change it with Social security and Driver’s license offices?

Brette's Answer: The change only happens if you request it from the various legal entities. You are not obligated to do so. 

How do I change my name if it’s been years since the divorce?

Donna's Question: At the time of divorce I kept my married name for the kids. The kids are grown now and I would like to go back to my maiden name. How should I handle this?

Brette's Answer: If your divorce judgment gives you the right to use your pre-marital name you can go ahead and do so. Start with your driver's license and Social Security. If your judgment does not give you the right to return to your pre-marital name, you will need to file a name change petition in your local court where you currently reside. It's a simple procedure where you file a petition and usually pay to publish a small notice in a legal newspaper. Contact an attorney in your area for help.

Which court do I go to get my maiden name back?

Terry's Question: I was divorced over 40 years ago. The petition for divorce was handled in the Manchester, NH court. I have no idea if the lawyer who was handling our no-fault divorce included permission for me to change back to my maiden name. I have been using my maiden name for all these years. Now that I've reached social security age, I'm running into problems because my Medicare card has my married (still legal) name on it. Where do I go to officially change the SS name to my maiden name?

Brette's Answer: You can obtain your divorce decree from the court that issued it. If it gave you permission to use your maiden name, that is the legal proof you need. If it does not, you will need to do a name change procedure in whatever local court handles that kind of case, most likely your lower level state court. 

Is there a cheap way to take back my maiden name after divorce?

Ruth's Question: I would like to go back to my maiden name and I was wondering if there any way to get the fees waived? In total, with the newspaper notification, it will be close to $300. The initial fee for the petition is $164.50. I am unable to work full time and that's a lot to come up with. I just wish there was a cheaper way to get this done.

Brette: In most states, you do not need to go through a name change procedure after a divorce if your decree gives you the right to revert to your maiden name. You can just begin using it. You can show the decree to the DMV, etc. as proof.

Do I need to change my name with the Social Security office?

Anna's Question: I am getting divorced and have requested a return to my maiden name in the divorce papers. Do I need to still change it with the Social Security Office?

Brette's Answer: Yes you need to change it everywhere - SS, driver's license, banks, credit cards, property tax, everything.

What paperwork does Social Security need to change my name?

D's Question: I went to the Social Security office to change my name on my SSN card. I had the paperwork with the judge's signature, date the decree became absolute, and a stamp saying it was on file, but the clerk asked where the raised stamp was on the papers. Where do I go from here?

Brette Answers: You may need to obtain a decree with a raised seal from the court clerk's office.

Do I need to change anything if my old Social Security card has my maiden name on it?

Jenny's Question: I have gotten a divorce and was granted a return to my maiden name. I still have my original SSN card with my maiden name on it ....can I use that? Or do I still need to go to the social security office to change it?

Brette's Answer: If you change your name, you need to notify Social Security as soon as possible. You must go to Social Security to process the change. You might have the old card with your maiden name, but they need to know you've changed it back so that your benefits can be credited appropriately. Read more here

Can I use both my married and maiden name after the divorce?

Question: Once a divorce decree is printed and legal showing I changed my married name back to my maiden name, can I still use both names legally or just one?

Brette: It depends on what it says. If it says your name is changed, then technically your maiden name is the one you use. If it gives you the option or the right to change your name, you can use either.

Can I still use the old order to change my name if I'm remarried?

Anna's Question: I have a court order from a prior marriage that states I have the right to return to my maiden name. Can I still use this order even though I married again? The clerk said the order is always good because an order had not been issued stating it couldn't be used or was canceled. Is she right?

Brette's Answer: It seems to me that order gives you the right to stop using your name from your first marriage. If you married again, changed your name again to your second spouse's name, I think you need a separate order handling that, however you should check with your attorney to find out what the law is in your state.

How do I handle the name change if I divorced and remarried the same year?

Hilary's Question: I got divorced and remarried last year. My divorce paperwork says that I'm changing my last name back to my maiden name, but my new marriage license says I'm changing it from my old married name to my new married name. Do I have to change it to my maiden name first before I change it to my new married name?

Brette's Answer: Normally when you get married you just show your marriage license to change your name. It seems like that would be the solution in your case. The divorce decree gives you the option to change your name back to your pre-marital name if you choose, but it isn't a requirement. You should talk with your attorney if you are unsure what to do.  

How do I get my maiden name back if our marriage wasn’t valid?

Penny's Question: I got married eleven years ago and I found out a few years later he was still married to someone else (he ended up divorcing her). We split up and I'm trying to get my maiden name back, but he recently passed away.

Brette's Answer: You should consult an attorney on what you need to do in your state. If he was already married your marriage was likely invalid, but you may need to have it formally declared so which will completely legally annul it. The other option would be to simply do a name change procedure. Your attorney can guide you as to what you need to do.

Why are child support checks made out in my maiden name?

Taren's Question: It was granted in my divorce that I can go back to my maiden name, but I haven't changed it so far. I just got my first child support check and it had my maiden name on it. Was my name changed automatically once the divorce was granted?

Brette's Answer: Most divorce decrees give a woman the right to change back to their maiden name. It's not required, but because most women choose to do so, the child support agency probably changed it automatically. You can notify them if you want the check made out in your married name instead.


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