Should I change my surname back after divorce?

Change my surname back after divorce

Going through a divorce is challenging for everyone involved. On top of the grief, stress and emotional turmoil, you must make endless decisions. Decisions about children, living arrangements, finances, property ... the list goes on.

Even though you may feel your life has spiralled out of control, there is one decision which is yours, and yours alone. It is:

"Should I change my surname back after divorce?"

And there is absolutely no rush to decide.

It’s not a decision you should make hastily. Because how you feel now may be very different from how you feel in 12 months.

So, take a deep breath and take it slowly.

Before deciding to change your surname, there are five things you should consider. Read them now. Then reread them in a few months. And again. Read them until you know in your heart which decision is right for you.

Think of your identity

Your sense of identity is a powerful thing.

When you get divorced, you may feel like you have lost your sense of identity. That is normal.

You will need to pick up the pieces and rebuild your life. Part of this may mean reclaiming your self-esteem and rebuilding your sense of self.

Divorce is a time of change and transformation. Changing your surname may signify a new beginning, a fresh start. You may be a different person now to who you were during your marriage.

You may feel like you are regaining yourself. Reclaiming your maiden name may feel freeing and empowering.

Relationship expert Renee Catt, known as the ‘Divorce Go To Girl’, says that in her experience, some women may benefit from changing their surname, because it helps them regain a sense of who they are, which adds to their identity and can rebuild confidence.

Renee states:

This is a massive internal question that women (and men) are faced with after a separation and divorce. I am no longer a wife, a Mrs, an ‘other half’, so who am I?”

As you navigate your way through your new life, reverting back to your maiden name may also reignite your sense of connection and belonging to your own family, and, as an extension of that, a strong sense of who you really are.

On the other hand, if you have been married for a long time, you may have been happily using your husband’s surname for many years. It may better represent who you are and how you see yourself. You may feel more comfortable with the identity that has evolved with your married name. Changing your name back may feel like going backwards, in the sense that it no longer feels like you.

Or you may actually like your married surname.

My friend, Konstantina, had a long and complicated Greek surname. Combined with her equally long first name, she had a total of 33 characters in her name! When she got married, she could not wait to change her surname and become Mrs Bell. Even though her marriage ended quickly, she refused to give up her married surname when she got divorced.

Emotions involved in a name

You cannot ignore the link between names and emotions.

How many times have you heard a name that reminded you of someone else with that name? Expectant parents spend hours contemplating the name of their unborn baby. They are really assessing their connection and emotional attachment to a proposed name for their child.

Using your ex-partner’s surname may consistently remind you of a painful past. Your subconscious is a powerful tool.

You cannot assume that a name has no importance. Would you give your daughter the same name as that girl who bullied you in high school? Or give your son the same name as your first love, who broke your heart? A name change could be remarkably liberating if your marriage was horrible.

Alternatively, you may have strong feelings for your former spouse and be hanging onto hopes of a reconciliation. Maybe keeping his surname is a way for you to stay connected to him. In these circumstances, keeping your married name may make it harder to let go and move on.

You might be surprised to discover that your former partner has strong feelings about you continuing to use your married name. I recall conducting a Mediation where the husband did not want his former wife to continue using his surname after the divorce. For him, this issue was closely linked to his feelings of anger, grief and even control. It was difficult for him to understand and accept that it was her personal choice and not his decision to make.

Timing of changing back to your maiden name

If your relationship has just broken down, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Taking on too many tasks may feel emotionally and physically exhausting. This is understandable.

It may be a struggle just to get yourself to work. If you have children to look after, it can be even harder.

The first year of divorce can often be the toughest. Changing your name can be a tedious and time-consuming process. Are you up to spending the time and energy it will take to change your surname right now?

It can take hours trying to source, download, complete and lodge the relevant forms. For example, you will need to change your surname on your:

  • Driver’s licence
  • Passport
  • Bank accounts and credit cards
  • Loans, such as your mortgage or car loan
  • Property and investments, such as shares
  • Superannuation fund(s)
  • Medicare
  • Private health fund
  • Ambulance
  • Centrelink
  • Email and social media account

You also need to notify organisations such as:

  • Australian Taxation Office
  • Australian Electoral Office
  • Your employer
  • Insurance companies (e.g. house, motor vehicle)
  • Electricity, gas and water suppliers
  • Your doctor/medical specialists

For the sake of completion, you should also update your name on any memberships (e.g. loyalty programs such as frequent flyer) or other associations you are part of.

If you do decide to change your name, it is a good idea to do it comprehensively. It can get complicated if you end up with multiple names by changing your name on some things and not on others.

For example, one of my clients booked an overseas trip as a way of healing from her recent marriage breakdown. She had already decided to revert back to her maiden name. However, it wasn’t until she turned up to the airport that she remembered her passport still showed her married surname. Needless to say, the airline would not allow her to check-in using two different names. Although the problem was eventually resolved, she missed her flight due to the confusion caused. So, if you are planning on travelling overseas (and what a great way to heal!) make sure your booking is in the same name as the name on your passport.

Also, things can get a bit complicated if you are trying to deposit cheques that are in a different name to the one on your bank account. Or if you are trying to claim medical expenses, which have been invoiced in a different name to the name recorded on your Medicare or health fund records.

In most instances, you can clarify things by providing proof of a name change, such as your birth certificate, marriage certificate and/or divorce order. However, just be aware that there may be a transition period where issues such as these arise.  Consider your name and your work

Perhaps you spent significant time building your career during your marriage. If you have used your married name for many years, this is likely to form part of your professional standing.

Changing your name may cause confusion and be detrimental to your work identity. You could be relying on your married name to build a positive professional reputation. Your work colleagues and clients may not know what your maiden name is.

If you have your own business, changing your name can also prove problematic. It may be detrimental to your professional branding. You may have worked hard to build loyalty among your clients, referral sources and other professional networks. Changing your name may feel like starting your career again from scratch.

There may also be business costs incurred with changing your name, such as:

  • Ordering new corporate stationary
  • Making changes to your website, social media channels, email address and templates
  • Registering name changes with regulatory authorities such as ASIC

If you are deadset on changing your name but it all feels too overwhelming, contact Easy Name Change as they're a great service who will do most of the above for you at very reasonable price.

The impact of changing your name on your children

Having children could be one of the most compelling reasons to retain your ex-partner’s surname.

It may bother you that your last name is different from that of your children. Perhaps sharing the same surname as your children fosters a sense of unity, particularly at a time when everything around you feels insecure and unstable.

Maybe you don’t want the added confusion for your children, as well as their school and their friends, of having a different name to them. If your children are already feeling shocked and sad about the changes to their family, maybe keeping the status quo (for the moment, at least) can help make the transition easier for all of you.

I still recall my friend, Heather, telling me how confronting it was for her when she was writing her Christmas cards soon after her divorce. She had changed her surname back to her maiden name but suddenly didn’t know how to sign off the Christmas cards from her and the children. They had always been the “Wilson” family, but that was no longer her surname. This is definitely worth thinking about when considering ‘should I change my surname back after divorce’.

It is not an easy decision to make. However, it may give you some comfort to know that in the 2013 Easy Name Change Survey, 70% of women reported that they did not feel any loss when removing their ex-husband’s surname.

Should a change my surname back after divorce?

The decision to change your surname back is an important one.

There is no right or wrong answer and everyone’s situation is different.

Your decision may not be understood or supported by all those around you. But if you have just gone through the trauma of a divorce, the last thing on your mind should be other people’s judgement.

Take the time to think about your decision. As stated earlier, there is no rush.

Names can be complicated things. The power of a name cannot be underestimated.

But the power to make a choice is yours.

If you are thinking: ‘Should I change my surname back after divorce?’. hopefully this article has helped you make a decision.

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Venita Dimos

About the author

Venita Dimos is a Mediator and experienced lawyer. She is also the founder of The Mediation Company, which is committed to helping people who are separated or divorced reach agreement and discover creative solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

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