While more and more women are opting to keep their own surname when they get married, many still choose to adopt their husband’s last name. However, when the marriage ends, keeping his name may be an unpleasant reminder of the past. So the question becomes whether or not under New Jersey law a woman has a right to drop the last name of her former spouse.
Is there the right to change last names?
The answer is “Yes”. As part of the divorce one can ask to drop their married name. This is acccomplished by drafting language into the settlement agreement that confirms this right, identified the name to be dropped and the new surname and provides the security number of the individual. For security reasons and in compliance with the court rules, my practice is to redact all but the last four digits of the social security number. By putting this right in the settlement agreement the client then has an enforceable court order to give to the DMV or any other agencies which may need to implement the name change. Do not give an agency the original copy of your Final Judgment. Copies are generally acceptable. Keep in mind that while a wife can request to change her name the husband cannot require her to do so.
At the final hearing the judge will make some inquiries as to the reasons for requesting the name change. The court must be satisifed that the reqeust is not being made to avoid criminal charges, evade creditors, or for any other fraudulent purpose.
An interesting twist
After practicing for several years I had participated in or observed dozens of name change requests. They tend to be non-eventful occurrences. However, on one particular day I was seated in the back of the courtroom as the case ahead of us was wrapping up. The name change is often the last part of the proceeding. When the attorney started questioning her client I shifted my focus to my own case. I was snapped out of that focus when the client asked to assume an entirely new last name. She did not want to assume her birth name. After a few moments of confusion the court confirmed that she could adopt any last name she wanted!