Changing your name after Virginia divorce

Posted on Aug 26, 2019 by Katie Carter

If carrying his name after divorce really gets under your skin, I have good news for you. It’s super easy to petition the court for a name change to resume a former or maiden name during the divorce process.

Of course, for many people, keeping the same name as the kids is important, even if you’d really rather not still carry your ex-husband’s name. I can’t weigh the pros and cons for you, but, if you do decide that you’d like it changed, that’s definitely something we can pretty easily remedy.

Most of the time, the decision is pretty easy. I have had women ask me to go ahead and put it in the complaint so that they can make the decision later. In one case, back in my very, very early days of practice, I was shocked when a client for whom I had prepared all the necessary documentation (and who, at the time, was vehement that she wanted her maiden name back) decided in the middle of the uncontested divorce hearing that she DIDN’T want her name changed. Today, I’d probably go with the flow a little bit easier, but, at the time, both the judge and I questioned her.

I get it, though. It’s a big deal. And changing your name – aside from the legal process – is a pain in the butt. You have to go to DMV and to social security, and you have to provide documentation to a bunch of different places to verify that your name has been legally changed. If you have professional certifications, you’ll have to make sure your name is changed there as well. When I changed my name after I got married, it seemed like for years I’d get mail addressed to me in my old name. It’s a process, for sure.

But all that’s waiting for you after your name is legally changed. To actually legally change it, in the divorce context, is pretty easy.

What do I have to do to get my name changed during my divorce?

It’s all a question of paperwork. If you want to resume a former or maiden name as part of your divorce, first you’ll want to ask for it in your complaint or, if your husband has filed for divorce first, in your answer and counterclaim. It’s a pretty simple request, basically that you (either the plaintiff or the defendant, depending on whether you filed the complaint or answer and counterclaim) request that the court reinstate a maiden or former name, and then you provide the full legal name you wish to resume.

Then, when it’s time to finalize the divorce, you’ll file an order reinstating your former or maiden name along with your final decree of divorce. That’s it!

What if I didn’t ask for the name change in my complaint or answer and counterclaim?

It does sometimes happen that the request for a name change gets left out of the complaint or answer and counterclaim. Whether you hadn’t yet decided that you wanted a name change, or whether you just forgot to include that request at the time – well, it happens.

No big deal. If that’s the case, we can file a motion to resume a former name along with your order when you file all the divorce paperwork with the court. It’s just one extra document, and not a problem.

I actually have a case like that now; one that I inherited from another attorney. My client was unhappy with her representation somewhere else, so she fired her attorney and came to our office. She wanted her name changed, and it wasn’t requested in the complaint. She tells me she had told her attorney that she wanted it changed, but, no matter – we just drafted the motion along with the order. Easy enough, and no harm done.

How much does it cost to get a name change done along with a divorce?

As far as legal fees, you’re looking at the attorney time involved. To prepare a motion and/or an order, it’s not particularly expensive. It’s obviously a little more expensive if both documents have to get drafted as opposed to just one, but it’s always a matter of time expended. Most attorneys in our area bill in increments of a tenth of an hour at an hourly rate ranging between $150 and $400 or so. It can range, but you’re probably not looking at more than a couple hundred dollars.

There’s also a filing fee associated with the name change petition. Most courts charge $20-something, but it varies a little bit from court to court.

Can I ask for it in my complaint and then decide later if I want to get my name changed?

Sure. But, in order to get the name change as part of your divorce, you will have to decide by the time the divorce decree is entered.

If you aren’t ready to get your name changed when the time comes, you can change it later. It’s not quite as easy, but you don’t HAVE to get it changed with your divorce.

If yours is an uncontested divorce, you may not have very long between when your complaint is filed and when those documents get entered by the court – so there may not be much time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of changing your name. If you’re not ready to make that decision, like my client in my early days, you can always change your mind at the last minute. We don’t often do uncontested divorce hearings anymore (though sometimes it does happen), so most uncontested divorces happen by affidavit – meaning that all of your paperwork gets sent to the court for the judge to review and process. Obviously, in this instance, you’ll want to decide BEFORE your paperwork goes to the court; if you change your mind once its en route, it may be difficult to locate and remove that name change request.

Talk to your attorney about how long you might really have between the complaint and the entry of the final divorce decree, if you’re on the fence about whether or not to change your name. If you’re not ready to make that decision when the time comes, that’s fine. It doesn’t matter if you’ve asked for it in your complaint; if you don’t also provide the name change order and the filing fee at the time the divorce is entered, no name change will be processed.

If you want a name change, the bottom line is that it’s definitely cheapest and easiest to do as part of your divorce. Afterwards, you’d have to start a whole new case just for the purpose of a name change, which will cost more and take longer. Still, it’s not impossible to change, and it’s never a particularly expensive or difficult thing to do. It’s probably ideal if you do it now, rather than later, but don’t let that rush you into making a decision you’re not ready to make.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.