Divorce FAQ's

Name Changes in Family Court

1. Can I change my name at the time of divorce?

Yes, at the time of the final uncontested hearing you will have the opportunity to request that the court permit you to resume your maiden name. If you make this request then you will be asked a few questions at your final divorce hearing. These questions are as follows; a) Are you changing your name to try to avoid debts or to defraud creditors; b) Are you changing your name to avoid criminal prosecution. When your name change request is finally granted the judge will then include your maiden name on your judgment of divorce. The official gold seal on the judgment of divorce will legally authorize you to change all of your legal documents. These legal documents include your driver’s license, your social security card, and your birth certificate.

2. How can a person changer her name in a divorce case?

The topic of name changes arises in many different contexts in the family court. An application to change your name is routinely granted in the vast majority of the divorce cases. The only instance when a name change request is denied is if a spouse is also in bankruptcy when she is making the request. In any divorce case a wife can resume the use of her maiden name that was used before she got married. Nonetheless, any request to resume the use of a maiden name should be made in the divorce complaint or in your answer. However, if your lawyer forgets to request a name change, then you can always request the court  to amend your pleadings at the final hearing. Thereafter, you can then ask the judge to grant your request for a name change. The family court almost always grants informal motions to amend the pleadings to permit a name change. See, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21.

Illustrative is the case of Cimiluca v. Cimiluca, 245 N.J. Super. 149, 152 (App. Div. 1990). Here, the  the Appellate Division held in pertinent part:

The failure of a spouse to file a pleading seeking a name change authorized by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21 should not bar a written or oral motion made with consent at the divorce hearing to amend or add pleadings to achieve that end. Such a motion should be granted unless some contrary reasons appear, other than the informality of the procedures.

3. Do I have to change my name after the divorce?

No, there is no New Jersey law that can force you to resume your maiden name after you are divorced from your husband. Even if your husband insists that you give up his last name, he has no legal right to request that you go back to your maiden name.

4. What is the official court procedure before a family court will grant a name change request?

In any application to request a name change, the court will require that any party testify under oath that:

a. The name change request is not made or intended for any type of fraudulent purpose;

b. If the party was ever convicted of any type of crime, and if so, what was the nature of the crime and the sentence that was imposed;

c. Whether the party has any criminal charges are pending;

d. Is the name change application being used to avoid creditors; and

e. Is the party seeking the name change currently in bankruptcy.

5. I have just gotten divorced and I forgot to make a name change application. What type of court application can I now make to resume the use of my maiden name?

In many cases the wife is so upset during the divorce case that she forgets to request the permission to resume the use of her maiden name. The cost to obtain a name change outside of a divorce case is typically $1,000 and approximately $500 in costs. Fortunately, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21 provides that the court can still grant a name change application even after the divorce is over. Therefore, a party can file a post-judgment motion to change her name after the divorce case is over. The task of filing a post-judgment motion will be less expensive and time consuming than going through a full fledged name change case.

Illustrative is the case of Olevich v. Olevich, 258 N.J. Super. 344, 347-48 (Ch. Div. 1992). Here, the court held that a divorced woman was entitled to resume her maiden name even after the final judgment of divorce was entered. The court held that the woman could file a motion with the family court to request that she be permitted to resume her maiden name N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1.

Any motion to resume a maiden must be filed just like another other post-judgment motion. The application must include a  notice of motion, a certification, form of order, and proof of service to the former spouse. The applicant’s certification should specify the reasons for the name change request, it should also list the applicant’s date of birth, and finally his/her Social Security number. Once the name change motion is granted, then any order should have a gold seal affixed to it. The Motor Vehicle Services, the Department of Treaury, and other government agencies will not accept the name change order without a seal.

6. I want to change my son’s last name to my current last name. How can I legally request a name change for my child?

To request a name change for your son you have to file a formal name change case in the civil court. In the complaint you must also identify the child’s other parent, and his or her residence, and the parent(s) raising the child. The certification that accompanies the verified complaint must be signed by the child’s parent seeking the name change. In any name change case that involves a request to change the surname of a child, the case will be transferred from the Civil Division to the Family Court. Thereafter, you are required to serve copies of the verified complaint and the order fixing date of hearing on the other parent of the minor child.

7. How do I implement my name change?

The most important part the name change process is to implement the name change to all of the governmental agencies to the business world. The practical steps to implement a name change are as follows:

a. Advise officials and businesses. You should contact the various government and business agencies with which you deal with and have your name changed on their records.

b. Enlist help of family and friends. You should tell your friends and family that you’ve changed your name and you now want them to use only your new one. It may take those close to you a while to get used to associating you with a new sound. Some of them might even object to using the new name, perhaps fearing the person they know so well is becoming someone else.

c. Use only your new name. If you are employed or in school, go by your new name there. Introduce yourself to new acquaintances and business contacts with your new name.

8. What type of identification and records should I change?

It is generally recommended that you first acquire a driver’s license, then a Social Security card in your new name. Once you obtain these items of identification, then it is usually fairly simple to acquire others or have records changed to reflect your new name.

Here are the people and institutions to notify of your name change:

a. Friends and family
b. Employers
c. Schools
d. Post office
e. Department of Motor Vehicles
f. Social Security Administration
g. Department of Records or Vital Statistics (issuers of birth certificates)
h. Banks and other financial institutions
i. Creditors and debtors
j. Telephone and utility companies
k. State taxing authority
l. Insurance agencies
m. Registrar of Voters
n. Passport office
o. Public Assistance (welfare) office
q. Veterans Administration.

If you have made a will or other estate-planning document (such as a living trust), it’s best to replace it with a new document using your new name. Your beneficiaries won’t lose their inheritances if you don’t, but changing the document now will avoid confusion later.

Finally, it is important for you to also change your name on other important legal papers. You should change your name on your will, a power of attorney, a living will, and on any contracts that you have signed.

9. How do I know when I’ve gotten my name back?

Once you have filed all of your state and U.S. government name change forms and have notified all of your creditors of your new name, then your name change is almost complete. You will know that your name is legally changed when you receive your new Social Security card, driver’s license, and U.S. passport with your new name on them.

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