Legal Guide

How to Change Your Name or Your Child's Name Following a Divorce

Marriage is the culmination of love. In many cases, a spouse may drop their surname and replace it with the other spouse’s name after marriage. This can become a permanent name change that symbolizes the unity between two parties.

Unfortunately, what many people believe will be their happily ever after never materializes as married couples fall out of love. Data from the Census Bureau show that marriages in the U.S. have a 50% chance of ending in divorce. When the marriage ends, the partner that picked the other's name may want to drop it as part of moving on, although they do not have to. 

If you want a name change, you could wonder if it is possible or if your partner has a say; the answer is no. The decision to change your name lies squarely on you. Modifying your child's name is also possible if you prove it is in their best interest.  

Changing Your Name 

There are two options for changing a name when a marriage ends. The first and the easiest option is handling it as part of the divorce. Virginia allows divorcing parties to file paperwork requesting a name change and other divorce paperwork without paying additional filing fees. 

If you wait until the divorce is finalized, you must file a separate petition and pay additional fees. 

Changing Your Child's Name

What was once disallowed due to the social norms of a child taking their father’s name, is now possible - One partner can successfully petition the court to have a child change their last name if the court can determine that the name change is in the child's best interest.

If both parents do not jointly apply, the other parent must be given reasonable notice of the application and, if doesn’t consent, a hearing will be set on the issue. The court will order the name change unless the request is for a fraudulent purpose, will result in an infringement of another person’s rights, or not in the best interests of the child. In considering the best interests, the court will consider many factors, such as how long the child has used the name, examine the bond between the child and the partner whose name you intend to drop, the child's relationship with their siblings, and the child's wishes in its decision. Cases have discussed that there must be “substantial reasons” for the change and it is a factually dependent analysis.

Some Things won't Change

"While you can change a child's last name, that change doesn’t affect other matters. For example, it will not change the legally recognized parent, meaning they still retain custody and visitation rights and must pay child support if it was part of the divorce or custody/support order. The child will also have a right to inheritance from their legal parent," says attorney Brandon H. Zeigler of Parks Zeigler, PLLC.

Once you are through with the legal aspect of changing your or your child's name, you must update all the necessary documents to have them reflect the new names. You should also consider letting your colleagues, family, and friends know your preferred name. Though this process may seem daunting, know that these name changes are possible.

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