No one is required to change their name when they get married. For those who choose to change their name, nothing obligates them to change it back if they get divorced. Many people wish to do so, however, so Missouri’s family laws allow them to include a name change as part of the divorce case. Even after a divorce is finalized, a person can decide to go back to their previous name, or they can change their name to something else entirely — within reason, of course. Suppose you took your spouse’s name when you got married, and now you are trying to decide whether or not to keep that name. The decision about whether you should change your name after a divorce is yours, and yours alone. We can help you if you decide to do it.
As a general rule, you can go by any name you want. That does not make your chosen name your legal name, though. You may introduce yourself to everyone you meet as “Thunderbolt Von Awesome,” but for legal purposes, your name would still be “[ordinary first name] [boring last name].” You need a court order approving a change of name if you want to make your preferred name official.
The traditional scenario involves a woman who took her husband’s name when they got married and now wants to go back to her previous name. This is by no means the only scenario in which a party to a divorce might want to change their name. You have two options for a name change after divorce: You can request a name change as part of the divorce proceeding itself, or in a separate petition to a court afterwards.
A petition for divorce in Missouri must identify all of the issues that the person filing for divorce (the “petitioner”) wants to resolve. By state law, this must include issues like property division, spousal maintenance, and, if the couple has minor children, child custody, visitation rights, and child support. If the petitioner wants to change their name, they can include a request for a name change in the divorce petition. The other spouse, known as the “respondent,” can also ask for a name change, such as by filing a counter-petition for divorce.
What happens next mostly depends on two factors: whether you and your spouse can agree to a settlement, and what name you are requesting. If you are presenting the court with an agreed divorce decree, it is possible that the judge will sign off on the name change without much ado. If you are asking the court to approve changing your name to your maiden name or another name you have used before, you are not likely to have much trouble, whether you have settled the case or not. If you are asking for a completely new name, the judge will have questions for you.
Missouri law establishes procedures for anyone to petition a court for a name change. A court must grant a name change if the judge concludes that it “would be proper and not detrimental to the interests of any other person.” A person cannot change their name, for example, if their only reason for doing so is to evade the law or debt collectors. Court rules therefore require a separate petition for a name change to include information about any pending lawsuits or unsatisfied money judgments.
You can decide after getting divorced that you want to go back to a previous name, or at least get rid of your married name. It will cost you extra, though. Filing a petition for a change of name outside of a divorce proceeding requires payment of another filing fee. State law also requires you to publish a notice of the name change in your local newspaper, which also costs money.
You might want to change your child’s or children’s names as part of a divorce, or at a later time. Missouri allows this, although it can be a tricky process if you and the other parent are not on good terms. It is important to note that a name change does not affect anyone’s parental rights, such as if a court changes a child’s last name from the father’s name to the mother’s maiden name.
Changing a minor’s name requires the notarized consent of both parents. If a parent does not consent, the parent requesting the change must have them served with the court paperwork. The court must appoint someone as “next friend” of the child or children. This could be the parent who filed the petition, or it could be someone else. Ultimately, the court must determine after a hearing that a name change would be in the child’s best interests.
Once a court has signed an order approving a name change, the fun part begins. Whether the name change is included in your divorce decree or is in a separate order, you will need to obtain multiple certified copies to provide to government agencies, including:
You will also need to notify banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, utility providers, mortgage lenders, student loan servicers, and so on. Your child’s school will need to know about your new name. The list could continue for some time.
Every business and government agency will have its own process for changing your name in its records. The bad news is that there is no way to avoid bureaucratic headaches. The good news is that you do not have to do it alone. We can help.
Kansas City family lawyer Mark A. Wortman focuses his practice exclusively on divorce, child custody, and other family law matters. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (816) 523-6100.