Divorce: how do I change my legal name?

I recently got divorced and want to change my legal name back to my maiden name. What steps do I need to take?

Changing your name back after a divorce is easier than you think, according to attorney Ellen Frantz, whose practice includes family law.

During a divorce you can decide if you want to resume a former name," she said. "You just put it into the judgment paperwork that you will resume your former name."

While it usually applies to women who change their names after marriage – and divorce – the same rule applies to men. "It is a personal choice," Frantz said.

The actual change does not have to occur immediately. "Some decide to change right away and others wait until their children are grown," she said. You must notify Social Security, which will need a copy of your divorce judgment, to change your records.

If you decide after divorce that you want to go back to your birth name but did not have it in the judgment, Frantz said it may be possible to amend the divorce judgment to allow you to resume a former name.

If you choose to change your name for other reasons than marriage or divorce, you must go to court. You pay a court-filing fee, publish three legal notices in the newspaper and have a short hearing before a judge. If you want to change your name for reasons other than divorce or marriage but hold a professional license in Wisconsin (other than to teach in public schools) it is a little trickier. The licensing board must approve the name change to something other than what is on your license.

Children’s names also may be changed. If the child is under the age of 14, the change requires approval of both parents (or one if the other does not object after notice) or the surviving parent. If both are deceased or parental rights have been terminated, the petition to change the child’s name can be made by the legal guardian or a person with legal custody. After age 14, a child may decide for him or herself about a name change. No special requirements are needed to change a child’s name in an adoption situation as parental rights would have been terminated and the adopting parent(s) choose the new name for the child.

For more information, contact Ellen Frantz at 608-784-5678.

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