Can I Change My Name Back to My Old Name in My Divorce?

Can I Change My Name Back to My Old Name in My Divorce?

Last updated: June 2009

The following questions were submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette.  This article was published on June 9, 2009.

Q:    Can I change my name back to my old name in my divorce?  If so, what do I have to do?

A:    If your divorce judgment says so, you can change your name when you get divorced.  You’ll need a certified copy of that judgment to get a new Social Security card, or driver’s license, showing your new name.

It’s easy to change your name when you get married or divorced, at least if you’re a woman.  Otherwise, anyone can do a “legal” name change, by filing a specific request in court, and immigrants can change their name when they become a U.S. citizen.

There’s also a common law name change, which anyone can do, just by calling themselves whatever they want.  But getting official recognition of a common law name change can be an uphill climb, so it has a downside. 

Illinois divorce law says:  “Upon request by a wife whose marriage is dissolved or declared invalid, the court shall order her maiden name or a former name restored.”  Note that this is not a chance to change your name to whatever you want—“maiden” or former name only.

The best way to request a name change is in a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  The Petition starts the divorce process, when it gets filed in court, and served on your spouse.  Asking in the Petition is better than waiting to ask in person when you’re in court, which a Judge may not want to mess with.

The Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage can say something like, “Petitioner is granted leave to resume her former last name, SMITH.”  It’s not a bad idea for the Judgment to include your date of birth, which is “identifying information” that Social Security likes. 

Assuming a Judge signs the Judgment, you then need certified copies from the Circuit Clerk.  A certified copy is signed and sealed by Circuit Clerk, and is generally considered by state and federal agencies to be more “official” than a plain photocopy.

Once you’re divorced, the first place to change your name is probably the Secretary of State.  That’s because they have a deadline for changing driver’s licenses and state ID cards.  The law says you must “apply for a corrected card within 30 days after” your name changes.  Take the certified copy of your divorce Judgment, and your old license or ID.

That should get you a new license or ID, in your “new” name.

There’s no deadline to change your name at Social Security.  There, you’ll need to fill out Form SS-5, “Application for a Social Security Card.”  You’ll again need a certified copy of the divorce judgment, which, the instructions to Form SS-5 say, will be returned to you.  Social Security will also want to see a photo ID. 

That should get you a new Social Security card, in your “new” name, and connect your earnings under your new name to your old earnings record.  (Limit 3 new cards per year, and 10 per lifetime.)

The process of changing your name when you get married is very similar.  Then, instead of your divorce judgment, you’ll need a copy of your marriage license. 

If your divorce judgment doesn’t say anything about changing your name, you’ll probably have to do a regular “legal” name change.  That’s where you file a Petition for Name Change, and a judge signs an Order approving your new name.
 

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