Reclaiming Your Name

Hi there,

Something to consider if you are a woman contemplating divorce (and isn’t it interesting that only women change their names?) is whether or not you wish to resume your maiden name, (and a maiden name is another medieval concept) not that I am a feminist or anything.

An associate of mine, Andrea Dunbar, has written a very useful piece about just how to do this, and even more useful – where to go to actually change all the documents.  Check it out below!

Have a great weekend!



While no longer legally obligated to do so, many people take their spouse’s last name upon marriage.  After divorce, this can be a life long, painful reminder of the marriage.  This is why it is important to understand your rights and obligations for changing your name during or after a divorce.  The simplest way to change your name upon divorce is to start the process during the divorce proceedings and plead it in your divorce complaint.  The standard Massachusetts divorce complaint provides a space to request this relief from the Court.  When the Court issues the divorce judgment it will make an order that the complainant spouse be entitled to resume a former name.  Similar to a name change decree (discussed more fully below), this document can be used as legal proof of a name change.

For various reasons, whether it be due to emotions or keeping the same name as a child, many people decide not to resume their former name during the divorce process and seek to do it later.  In order to resume your former name after a divorce judgment has entered, you must file a Name Change Petition in the Probate and Family Court in the county where you reside.  The Court will grant your name change unless it is inconsistent with public interests. See G. L. c. 210, § 12.  While the standard for obtaining a name change is loose, the process and paperwork required is not.

In addition to filing the petition, you will also need to file certified copies of your birth certificate, the last legal document changing your name (for most people this will be a copy of the marriage certificate), and your divorce judgment if your name change is proceeding in a different county than your divorce.  The Court will also require you to submit a form permitting them to do a background check to ensure you are not changing your name for fraudulent purposes, and you will have to publish notice of your name change request in the newspaper.  This last step can be avoided by filing a Motion to Waive Public Notice along with an affidavit explaining why good cause exists to waive the public notice requirement.  The exact filing requirements will vary slightly by county due to different practices and procedures, making it a good idea to contact an attorney.

Once your paperwork has been received by the Court, and depending on whether the Court will waive the public notice requirement, it takes approximately one month to receive your name change decree.  Once received, this is your golden ticket (it actually has a gold seal on it) to the world of changing your name.  Unfortunately, there is no central database you can contact to change your name that will change it everywhere, and each entity with which you do business will have different requirements for the process.

The two main entities to start with when beginning the name change process are the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), in that order.  Notifying the SSA will serve to notify the IRS.  Be sure to change your name with the SSA before filing your federal tax return, because if the information on the return does not match the system, your return will not be processed.  Your name change must be registered with the SSA before you go to the RMV, because the SSA will not recognize your name when the RMV attempts to validate your social security number.  Also, do not forget to change your motor vehicle registration(s) while at the RMV.

The best way to keep on top of your name change is to monitor your mail and change your name with each entity as you receive correspondence.  Below is a non-exhaustive list of other places/entities to keep in mind when changing your name:

          Retirement Accounts

          Life Insurance

          Health Insurance

          Banks and Credit Unions

          Brokerage and Investment Accounts

          Mortgage Company(s)

          Credit Card Company(s) (including any department store accounts)

          Insurance companies (auto, home)

          Medical Offices (doctor, dentist, hospitals)

          Utilities (phone, electric, natural gas, heating oil, cell phone)

          State and Local (city and county) tax boards

          Passport Office

          Post office

          Voter registration board

          Internet service provider

          Newspaper and magazine subscriptions

          Health club

          Alumni associations

          Credit Bureaus

o   Experian

o   Equifax

o   Trans Union

          Notify Attorney(s) for legal documents such as:

o   Will

o   Health Care Proxy

o   Trusts

o   Powers of Attorney

o   Contracts

o   Deeds