One topic new clients often ask about is how they can resume a former name when they get divorced. Others were divorced but did not resume a former name at that time and want to know if they can still make a change. Still others resumed a former name but have questions about what to do next.
In New Jersey, courts permit an individual to formally resume the use of a former name (or other surname) once the person is divorced. If this is something you want to do, it’s best to advise your attorney at the outset of your case. It can then be included in your first filing with the court whether that is a complaint with you as the Plaintiff or in your counterclaim with you as the Defendant.
If you’re unsure as to whether to do so at the start of your case, a request can be made by your attorney at the final divorce hearing to amend/revise your pleading to permit you to do so.
In almost all instances, the court will grant the request to resume the use of a former or different surname, except in instances where the person:
- is seeking to change their name for a fraudulent purpose;
- is using the name change application to avoid creditors;
- has any pending criminal charges;
- was ever convicted of any type of crime; or
- is currently in bankruptcy proceedings.
I advise my clients that if they’re granted the right to resume a former name by the court it’s in their best interest to notify the appropriate government agencies, most often the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) and the Social Security Administration.
Here are some of the most frequently-asked questions on this topic:
If they are in my custody, can I change the last names of my children?
The answer is “possibly” but it’s a completely different and far more involved proceeding to attempt to do so. Contact James McGlew (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss further.
Am I required to resume a former name at the time I’m divorced and can my now ex-spouse demand that I do so?
The answer to both questions is no.
How can I make a name change on my driver’s license?
Each of these agencies will continue to have you in their records under your married name and to accurately interact with them in the future you will need to take the appropriate steps to have them revise their records. Whether changing your name on your license or applying for a “RealID” with your name change, it’s best to check the New Jersey MVC website.
How do I change my name with Social Security?
If the court has granted you the right to resume the use of a former name as part of your judgment of divorce (or by separate Court Order thereafter), you’re obligated to tell the Social Security Administration (SSA) so you can obtain a corrected Social Security Card. Understand that, while there is no charge for a new Social Security Card, you cannot apply for a new card online.
To get a corrected Social Security card, you’ll need to:
- You must show the required documents. You will need proof of your identity. Sometimes you also may need to prove your current U.S. citizenship or lawful noncitizen status. For more information, go to the SSA website and go to “Learn What Documents You Need.” Under the heading, “Type of Card,” select “Corrected” for a list of the documents you need;
- Fill out and print an Application for a Social Security Card; and
- Take or mail your application and documents to your local Social Security office.
James McGlew, II concentrates his practice in the area of divorce and family law and is Co-Chair of the Lindabury Divorce & Family Law Practice Group. He has extensive experience representing individual litigants, both at the trial and appellate level, on issues of custody, visitation, alimony and child support, equitable distribution and related issues, as well as the negotiation of marital settlement and prenuptial agreements. James also serves as a member of Lindabury’s Alternate Dispute Resolution Group, where he manages his private divorce mediation practice.
James is a court-approved mediator and has extensive experience working with both parties to achieve an amicable settlement without the expense and rancor of protracted litigation. James is an active member of the Union County legal community and is a former President and Trustee of the Union County Bar Association. He is a member of the Union County Bar Association’s Family Law Committee and has served as a member of the Union County Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointment Committee, as well as the Nominating and Activities Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.