One of the best things about divorce is the opportunity for a new, fresh start in life. For many women (and some men), this means using their former, or maiden name. Changing your name during the divorce process is relatively easy and can be accomplished in several ways. Additionally, parents can petition the court to change their children’s name, though this is much less common.
During a Divorce
If you plan to change your name, it is best to take care of it while the divorce is pending. In Washington State, the law allows for a judge to change the name of either spouse if the request is made as part of the petition for divorce. When the judge grants the final divorce order, known as the decree of dissolution, the name change will be official.
After the Divorce
If a person waits until after the divorce to make a change to his or her name, that person will have to begin a separate name change proceeding in court. This means that there will be an additional filing fee, and more hearings to attend.
In order to receive a court-ordered name change after a divorce, the person will have to file a petition stating his or her current name, the name that is desired, the reasons for the name change, and will have to certify that the name is not being changed for purposes of fraud or deceit. While this process is not difficult, it may be more time consuming and expensive than simply changing the name as part of the divorce.
Changing a Child’s Name
Sometimes, a parent or a child may wish to change the child’s last name after a divorce. In Washington, state law does not allow a parent to change their child’s name as a matter of course during the divorce proceedings, with one exception.
If you or your child were a victim of domestic violence, and you have a reasonable fear for your safety, the court may allow you and your child to change your names during the divorce proceeding. In these types of cases, the court will seal the records so that no one, including your former spouse, would have access to your new name or contact information. This is the only time when a divorce court has the legal ability to change a child’s name.
If the domestic violence exception does not apply, then the parent will have to petition the court to change a child’s name in a separate proceeding. While name changes are granted routinely for adults, it is harder to change the name of a child unless both parents agree. In addition, a child who is aged 14 or older will have to consent to the name change as well. Generally, a court will weigh factors like the child’s preference, the effect of the name change on the child’s relationships with his or her parents, and the length of time the child had his or her previous name. If both parents consent to the change, and none of these factors weigh negatively against the change, then the petition will usually be granted.
Regardless of how you decide to keep your name after your divorce, the attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law are here to help you resolve your family law issues. For help with your situation, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.