Didn’t Resume Your Maiden Name at the Time of Divorce? Don’t Worry. It’s Not Too Late!
The best stage of any divorce or civil union dissolution is when it’s “final,” which means the Court has entered a “final judgment” and made the marriage’s end official.
Congratulations! You’ve earned it.
A number of issues have been resolved at the point of a finalized divorce including, but not limited to, custody of the children and parenting time, child support, alimony and equitable distribution. Often but not always, the woman also decides to resume her maiden name if she previously assumed her husband’s surname. This change is typically accomplished by submitting an additional name change order along with the final judgment of divorce and property settlement agreement, or “PSA.”
But what happens when the woman changes her mind down the road? Perhaps after a long marriage or the civil union, it was simply easier to keep your original name than go through the long process of amending your name on bank accounts, public records and professions or driver’s licenses. Or maybe it was just easier for the children to avoid any confusion and keep your name? There are obviously a host of different rationales.
The good news? New Jersey Courts have strongly suggested that there is literally no time limit on resuming one’s maiden name after a divorce or dissolution is finalized. A recent unpublished, (and therefore “unprecedential” or non-binding) decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division, is instructive for any divorced woman looking to resume her maiden name…
In the Gloucester County case Riccioli v. Riccioli, the Court considered the application of a woman who divorced her husband in 2009. Approximately two years later, in August 2011, she filed a family court motion seeking a number of different relief items including permission to resume use of her maiden name. However, the trial-level court denied the woman’s request to resume her maiden name on the basis that two years had elapsed since her divorce was finalized.
On appeal, the Court disagreed that two years was somehow too long for a post-divorce name change to be allowable. The Appellate Judges noted how generally, under N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1, “[a]bsent a criminal or fraudulent purpose, an adult can ‘legally and properly change his or her name at will and without need of judicial approval simply by using the desired name in ordinary life.” [In re Zhan, 424 N.J. Super 231, 235 (App. Div. 2012) (quoting Matter of Bacharach, 344 N.J. Super. 126, 130 (App. Div. 2001)]. This is usually accomplished by filing a relatively straight forward motion.
Specifically in cases of divorce, the Court relied on N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21 which provides divorce spouses with an additional avenue to change their names:
The court, upon or after granting a divorce from the bonds of matrimony to either spouse or dissolution of a civil union to either partner in a civil union couple, may allow either spouse or partner in a civil union couple to resume any name used by the spouse or partner in a civil union couple before the marriage or civil union, or to assume any surname. [N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21]
The Riccioli Appellate Court went on to cite the published (and therefore precedential) appellate-level decisions Cimiluca v. Cimiluca (1990) and Olevich v. Olevich (1992) for the proposition that neither the State Legislature nor New Jersey Courts have never established a specific time limit for name changes “upon or after granting a divorce” or civil union dissolution as provided pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21. In fact, the Olevich Court ruled that “a woman may apply to resume her maiden name at any time after the court grants a judgment of divorce.”
What is the bottom line? It’s more efficient and yes, less expensive, to resume your maiden name at the time of divorce. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind (and your last name) even fourteen years down the road!
We can help. If you’re considering divorce or dissolution, we can help you through the sometime complicated steps of legally ending your relationship including drafting the appropriate documents and preparing the needed proofs to get your old name back. And even if it’s been many years since your divorce, as discussed above, a DeMichele & DeMichele matrimonial attorney can discuss the family motion application process with you and, as is always our goal, assist you in making an informed decision that’s right for both you and the people whom you care about.
If you or a loved one have questions regarding divorce, civil dissolution or name change specifically, please contact the New Jersey family law attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele. Your confidential, initial consultation is only a click or call away. Call now to speak to one of our matrimonial attorneys at (856) 546-1350 or click here to contact us online.