Keeping your married name after divorce

When I was going through my divorce, deciding to go back to my maiden name was a no-brainer. It was also a no-brainer for Mary Wright. However she decided to keep her married name.

***

My married name is Wright and when my husband and I split up he actually told me I was not allowed to keep his name, that I had to take my maiden name back. We’d been married 23 years so I’ve been Wright for 23 years. That’s how I’ve been known for my entire professional career. All my clients know me as Mary Wright and I have two children. I don’t want to have a different name than my children. We’re still a family but I want to share our last name and not have that be confusing for them.

My ex felt that if I was divorcing him, I was divorcing his entire legacy and his last name was part of his legacy. But I was part of his family. His mother and father are both deceased now but I was very close to them. They were my family too.

I was Leake before I was married. I wasn’t going to be Leake-Wright – that wasn’t going to work for me. It wasn’t that I don’t like “Leake” because that’s what I grew up with and I knew what it felt like. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been Mary Leake.

I was actually a different person then. I was 19 when I met him. I was a child. I’m now a professional woman, I’m 50, I’ve had two children, I’ve been active in the community, I’ve taught at the university for 16 years under the name of Wright. My whole adult identity has essentially been developed as Mary Wright and I am a very different person at 50 than I was 19. I identify myself as Mary Wright. That’s me. It’s not his wife or his identity. It’s my identity.

***

I chatted with my divorce attorney, Judy LaBuda, about name changes. In her experience, the women who didn’t change names after a divorce were women like Mary, with long term marriages or who had children and didn’t want their children to have a different last name. Judy said hyphenating their name was popular solution.

Perhaps naively, it hadn’t occurred to me that a man might demand that his wife change her name. I asked Judy if the law provides for this. “It happens fairly frequently in dissolutions where they’re adversarial particularly where the husband has been the person who has controlled the marriage,” Judy said. “Often times that’s the reason for the dissolution and the husband will be very adamant that you must change your name. But the husband gets no choice. It is completely at the wife’s discretion as to whether she wants to keep or change her name. She has sole discretion to decide that.”

You can read more about changing your name after divorce in this online article, “Should you keep your married name after divorce,” by Lisa Riggs.

Did you keep your married name when you got divorced? Why was that important to you? Would love to hear the male perspective too – should a husband be able to require his wife give up her married name after divorce?

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  • Jim

    As a man who’s wife is seeking a divorce for her own personal reasons; freedom, independence etc. and no ill feelings between us I feel as though part of that is giving up her married name. In the end the “act” of divorce is essentially business; dissolving a legal agreement or state, splitting up assets, assuring the child(ren) are cared for, listing who will do what and when so that both parties have been taken care of fairly. That being said my name is personal, it was given to me by my father, it was carried over from another country by an immigrant man who refused to change it when he came to this country. It is extremely personal for me. I feel that if we are dissolving a union that the name is also part of it, how is it less confussing for a child? You get divorced and set up two different households, then change their schedules cut back time spent with both parents, change up the holidays and vacation time, they keep the same last name but the confusing part is that mom’s surname changed? In my family her maiden name has always been a huge part of our family unit. We spend tons of time with her parents amd will continue to so my child is quite aware of her maiden name. We are still a family and I still love my ex-wife and my child who was born with the same last name. I believe it is unintentionally selfish of the woman to keep it. I think in some cases it’s another war to wage just to hurt the other person. The last thing I want is for my ex-wife to be dating someone while using my last name, talk about demeaning and showing and utter lack of respect the person you love(d).

    • Mandy

      Hi Jim – thank you for bringing a male perspective to the discussion and for sharing how your father brought your name over from another country. That really paints the picture of how personal a name is. I agree that mom changing her last name could well be the least confusing aspect of the divorce for children. I do think for some women though the question can present a real dilemma especially if they were married young and have been married for a long time. For them, their married name may feel more like their name than their maiden name.

  • tia

    When my husband and I married, both of us took each other's names (using "van" from his ancestry in place of the usual hyphen in the middle of the two names) because we both felt that we were creating a new identity together. Now that we are divorcing, that name still feels more like "me" than my maiden name… My soon to be ex is also considering keeping our married name.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SinceMyDivorce SinceMyDivorce

      That's neat that you took each other's names. I do think the choice of what name to keep after divorce is largely dependent on what name you feel "fits" you the best. Thanks for visiting Tia.

  • Gladys

    My name is GLADYS and I recently had a breakup with my husband about 2 months back. He said we are done that we should move on that he has someone else now. I could not even bear the pain and everything and just so unfortunate, I discovered I was pregnant when me and my ex we going through some big fights. I couldn’t tell him I was pregnant because I knew he would blame it on me. I suffered with the secret on my own and I could not go through an abortion on my own. The funny thing is I discovered that he had two other girlfriends I was not aware of. I know if I could turn back the hands of time I would do it again because i could not suffer everything alone, I almost drop out of varsity because of a guy. On a faithful day after i lost of thought, an old friend told me about a spell prophet with this email ALMIGHTYJUJUTEMPLE@gmail.com who could help me restore my love and have my baby in good terms. I sacrifice everything to make sure the spell was done. and the spell was now the savior. his spell brought back my lover after 2days. My joy, love and happiness is restored because of this spell prophet, my baby comes soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jekarras John Karras

    You know I am considering this issue at the moment and at this particular moment I want her to change it. I see it in print, I see it on all the mail, etc. It is a painful reminder of a divorce I did not want and as I was not honored nor respected in any way as it ended I do not want her to use it in any way. Although I may not be able to force the change I can write her maiden name on everthing I can get my hands on and I do.

    • http://sincemydivorce.com Mandy Walker

      Hi John – I appreciate you weighing in on this issue because it’s so often discussed from just the woman’s perspective since most of the time it’s the woman who’s changing her name. Your comments help us understand that it impacts men as well.

      As much as you want her to change her name, as you point out you can say and do as much as you want but you have no legal input on the decision (at least in the U.S. and to the best of my knowledge). You may get some satisfaction from writing her maiden name on documents but I’m concerned your setting yourself up for a battle of wills and you’re giving her power to upset you. I honestly think it would be better for your sanity to let it go – you’ve had your say, she knows your position, don’t raise it again.

      You could also ask your attorney about changing your name … I don’t think the law limits the right to the female spouse … now that would be a novel solution.

  • Katie H.

    I use my maiden name socially and married name legally as trying to change every document after 23 years and two kids was too much of a mine-field. But using my maiden name whenever introduced etc is just wonderful. I am back to being me. I am not attached to him at all. And I sometimes explain ‘ I had a life change and now use my maiden name.’ everyone smiles .

    • http://sincemydivorce.com Mandy Walker

      The logistics of changing your name are a minefield! You are right about that. I like your solution of using your maiden name socially. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Angela

    I am due to get married shortly, I have kept my married name after I got
    Divorced. When I get married for the second time, do I continue to
    Sign the register with my maiden name or my kept married name?
    Should I have mentioned my maiden name to the vicar, does this
    Matter?

    • http://sincemydivorce.com Mandy Walker

      I would think you have to sign the register using your current legal name. Are you going to change your name after you’re married?

  • Candi Brandl

    I am also right in the middle of this decision. If my kids were still young and in school it would have been a no brainer. I would have wanted to have the same last name as them. They are all grown now but the big issue is work. My name appears on so much that it really would be a monumental effort to change it. I like what Katie H. has done and I think I’m going to do the same thing!

    • http://sincemydivorce.com Mandy Walker

      Hi Candi – Have you thought about flip-flopping that … change your name legally back to your maiden name but keep using your married name for work? You would still have to go through the process of re-registering accounts but you can do that over a period of time – it took me almost two years to get everything changed.

      • Candi Brandl

        Yes, that’s what I meant. It would really be harder to change it at work than everywhere else. So my married name would then be an AKA?

        • http://sincemydivorce.com Mandy Walker

          Yes, your married name would be an AKA – even now both names are AKA’s ….And if Candi is an abbreviation for something then that name is also an AKA … It gets complicated. Would be so much simpler if we just never changed our names!