Last week, my client arrived to finalize her divorce documents, but she couldn’t decide if she wanted to change her name. Her options were her married name, her maiden name, or Optimus Prime. We went over the name change process and she signed the forms keeping her married name.

Just like my client, most people want to know, do you have to change your name during a divorce? You do not have to change your name during a divorce. During the divorce, you have the choice to keep your married name, revert to your maiden name, or choose a new name altogether. You can also change it later on. However, if you’re on the fence know that the process is easier and less expensive if the name change is included as part of the divorce.

If you’re considering a name change this article will outline the name change process, discuss benefits and drawbacks, plus provide a checklist to follow once your change is complete.

***For the record my client didn’t actually consider Optimus Prime. Although a man in Ohio chose that name for himself a few years ago. I’d like to see him meet the Seattle man who changed his name to Megatron in 2007.

Topics

  1. Name Change Choices
  2. Name Change Process
  3. Cost Of A Name Change
  4. Benefits Of A Name Change
  5. Reasons To Keep Your Name
  6. Post Name Change Checklist

Name Change Choices

The Washington divorce paperwork gives you the option to change your name. Most people debate whether they should revert to their birth name, but you have the freedom to choose any name you’d like. While, Megatron and Optimus Prime are extreme examples they are a good demonstration that you have the freedom to choose your new name, not just stick to something familiar.

A name change is not just available to the spouse who took the others name when they married. Both spouses can change their names if they choose.

At the same time no one can force you to change your name. Whether or not your spouse likes it, if you prefer to keep your married name they can’t force you to change it. Similarly, your spouse can’t force you to once again use your birth name. Your name is entirely up to you and can be switched independent of the divorce.

Name Change Process

There are two ways to change your name. One, you can include the name change request in the divorce paperwork. Two, you can file a Petition For Name Change independent of the divorce.

Of the two, the process is easiest for those who include it in the divorce paperwork. Simply filling in Section 4 of the Final Divorce Order is all it takes to make the name change a part of the divorce decree. This is the simplest way to get court approval of a new name.

If you aren’t ready to include a name change in the Final Divorce Order you can still change your name later by going to court. There is no time limit, so you can do this whenever you are ready.

First, you’ll prepare a Petition For Change Of Name. I’ve included a link to the form used in King County, but each county has its own unique form, so contact your local District Court to get the proper form for you.

Once the form is complete, file it at your local District Court. When you file you’ll be assigned a hearing date, which you’ll need to attend. In some counties you’ll be able to get a hearing on the same day you file, so remember to bring photo ID. At the hearing the judge will review your petition and sign off on the name change.

Whether you chose to include the name change in the divorce or afterwards, in both cases you’ll need a certified copy of the court order, which approved the name change. You can get one from the court clerk.  With a certified order you can begin updating important items, like your driver’s license and credit cards, to reflect your new name.

Cost Of A Name Change

The cost of a name change will vary based on how it is done. If it is included in the divorce paperwork there is no additional charge. If the name change is requested independent of the divorce, the fees will be $197 in King County.

King County Name Change Cost Breakdown

  • Filing Fee: $83
  • Administrative Cost: $10
  • Recording Cost: $99
  • Certified Copy: $5

In some circumstances the court waives fees for low-income individuals. If you are low income and believe you’ll qualify for a waiver, you can prepare the following Motion, Order and Financial Statement to present to the court before filing. Keep in mind, you may still be required to pay the recording cost even if your fee waiver is approved.

Also, don’t forget the cost to get new forms of identification and to update your various accounts. The good news is these costs will be relatively small. For example, you will need to pay for a replacement Washington ID card ($54) and a new passport ($145).

Benefits Of A Name Change

Requesting a name change is a personal choice, so there is no right answer as to whether or not it should be done. Below are three reasons you might consider including a name change when filing your divorce petition.

Symbolic Way To Get A Fresh Start

Divorce can be looked at as a fresh start. Reverting to your birth name or choosing a new name can be a positive step towards moving on. Sometimes a previous last name can be a reminder of the past and it is healthy start again with a new name.

Personal Safety

Sometimes people are leaving a relationship due to domestic violence. In these cases they request a name change for safety. Name changes are public record, so a domestic violence survivor will need to request the change be confidential.

In order to do this, you must ask that the record be sealed because of a “reasonable fear” for safety. This will be done at the Superior Court, not the District Court where name changes are typically processed. If the court finds that the need for safety is legitimate they will seal the file and there will be no public record of the name change.

Bargaining Chip In The Divorce

Sometimes it’s very important to one of the spouses that a name not be changed. If you’re on the fence you can request a name change in your petition for divorce even if you’re still deciding. If later on you decide you’d rather keep your name, just don’t include the name change on the final order. Conversely, if your spouse is adamant that you keep the name, you can agree to keep the name as one concession in the divorce negotiations.

Reasons To Keep Your Name

Professional Consistency

If you’ve had the same name for years a change can confuse clients, business associates and other professional contacts. A married name could be on old diplomas and licenses earned during the marriage. Many times it’s a good business decision for a spouse to keep a married name, since it is consistent with their professional brand.

Same Name As The Children

Often women decide to keep their married name if they have children. Instead of viewing the married name as their ex’s name, they view it as their child’s name. It also removes the challenge children and parents have explaining why they don’t share a last name.

You Prefer Your Married Name

Many spouses prefer their married name. Common reasons are: 1) it is easier to pronounce, 2) they associate the name with a more mature version of themselves, 3) they feel the name belongs to them as much as their spouse or 4) they are still friends with their spouse and don’t have a negative association with the name.

Post Name Change Checklist

A name change will require new forms of ID and an update to your personal records. Below is a summary of items and accounts you may need to update.

  • Acquire New Forms of ID
    1. Passport (State Department)
    2. Driver’s License, Car Registration, Car Title (Department of Licensing)
    3. Birth Certificate (Department of Health – Center for Health Statistics)
    4. Social Security Card (Social Security Administration)

One hint is to stay on top of the name change around tax season. If you haven’t alerted the Social Security Administration there is a risk that your tax return won’t match up with your IRS records when you file. This is fine if you’re owed a refund, but if you owe taxes, your return could be rejected and leading to late penalties.

  • General Updates
    1. Bank Accounts
    2. Credit Cards
    3. Assets (deeds, mortgages, stocks, bonds, titles, investments etc.)
    4. Voter Registration
    5. Insurance
    6. Schools
    7. Employers
    8. Medical (Doctor, Dentist, etc.)
    9. Post Office
    10. Wills & Other Legal Documents
    11. Online Presences

Conclusion

Hopefully you now understand how to change your name in Washington and are able to decide if it is the right decision for you. If you have further questions about the name change process or divorce in general please give me a call at 206.409.4086 or send me an email.

Cheers,
Justin