Deciding whether to keep a married name or re-assume a maiden name is a common dilemma among women going through and after divorce. The New Jersey Final Judgment of Divorce gives both the husband and wife the chance to legally change his or her name to one used before marriage, or any other last name. This also applies to same sex couples in which one partner assumed the name of the other in marriage or civil union. Unlike divorce, a legal separation known as “divorce from bed and board” or “limited divorce” does not satisfy the requirement of the name change statute.
New Jersey Statute 2A:34-21 states 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.”
Before granting a request for name change in NJ during divorce proceedings, the court usually requires that the party state under oath:
(1) that the request is not intended for any fraudulent purpose;
(2) if he/she was ever convicted of a crime and if so, the nature and sentence imposed; and
(3) whether any criminal charges are pending.
Although these requests are usually granted, an applicant who has a pending bankruptcy action in NJ will generally be denied.
In addition to the use of a previously used name, the statute also grants permission for the spouse to assume any surname, even if never previously used before the marriage or civil union. If the name was never used, the spouse may be required to comply with the notice provisions of the general name change in NJ statute, 2A:34-21, which requires a detailed sworn affidavit.
The initial divorce pleadings should include the request for name change; however, it is still possible to resume a maiden/previous name after a finalized divorce. A post-judgment motion will be used for this purpose.
If a spouse is also interested in changing a child’s name, the statute for name change in NJ permits minor children to legally change surnames; however, the process is much more complex than spousal name change. A formal name change case must be filed in civil court that identifies the other parent, his or her residence, and the parents raising the child. The case will then be transferred to the family court. An experienced NJ family law attorney can guide the parent through this process.
The official seal on the judgment of divorce legally authorizes a spouse to change his or her name on all legal documents such as a driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate. Once these documents are changed, any relevant government agencies, financial institutions, and businesses should be notified. Some other institutions to be notified include schools, children’s schools, Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Records or Vital Statistics, passport office, post office, Social Security Administration, insurance agencies, and phone and utility companies. It can be helpful to notify all family, friends, and neighbors of the new name to spread the word. Only the new name should be used by the individual in both work and social settings. Wills or living wills, power of attorney, and all contracts should also be amended to include the new legal name to avoid future confusion.
Whether requesting a name change post-divorce or as part of divorce pleadings, it is crucial to have the services of a competent NJ family law attorney.