Changing Your Name Back After Divorce
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A step-by-step process and why it isn’t as big of a deal as you think
I’ll never forget the day I decided to change my name back to my maiden name. I had been divorced for four years, and although for a long time I thought the idea of having my old name back was extremely appealing, the process seemed extensive, time-consuming, and intimidating. In other words, why bother?
My decision to go back to Pilossoph all started when one of my girlfriends, who had been officially divorced for only a couple of months, came bursting into my house, very excited to show me her new driver’s license with her maiden name on it.
She seemed really happy about it, and I detected an air of independence, newfound confidence, and hope in her demeanor.
“Wow, I bet that was kind of a pain to change, huh?” I asked.
“Actually, I can’t believe how easy it was,” she said.
That’s all I needed to hear. The next day I took action, and within a day or two I had my old name back.
The process of changing your name back can seem daunting, arduous, and complicated, but the fact is I had the same experience as my girlfriend and found it not only quick and easy but also (I have to say) almost fun, due to the incredibly liberating and productive feelings I was experiencing.
I will try to offer a step-by-step process for changing your name back after a divorce, but remember, I can talk only about how it is done in Illinois. Other states may have a different process, but I bet they are similar.
First of all, if your divorce is not finalized yet, make sure you tell your divorce attorney that you want the option of changing your name back in your divorce decree. Why is this important? Because legally (in the state of Illinois) you have to have permission from the court (and your ex) to change your name back. The clause that you have that right to do so needs to be stated in the decree.
I would think most attorneys know to include this clause, but you’d be surprised at how many divorce decrees don’t. If yours doesn’t, it’s up to you to ask your attorney to add the clause. Furthermore, your ex has to sign off on it, and if he is bitter or angry, he may not readily do so, all of which could lead to more legal action, requiring more time and attorney’s fees. Crazy! You can avoid all this if you tell your attorney you want the option of changing your name back.
Once you have the decree that states you have the right to change your name back, take it to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and get a new license. You must also show the clerk your marriage certificate, which offers proof you changed your name to your married name in the first place. So basically you need two things. That’s it! Sure, you may have to sit there and wait, but there is nothing else to do. You don’t have to take any driving tests, vision tests, etc. You do have to have a new photo taken, but you walk out with a new license that has your old name on it! Done!
The next stop is the Social Security office. You walk in with three things: your new driver’s license, your divorce decree, and your marriage certificate. Again, you may have a wait, but you walk out with a new Social Security card with your old name on it!
Now it’s time to go to the bank to change all your bank accounts. I changed mine—easy peasy! After that, the steps to changing your name back are pretty easy, but for me, the process of completely being Jackie Pilossoph again took many months, even years. What I mean by that is every time I got a bill in the mail with my married name on it, I changed my name back, which you can do online or via phone. It can take at least six to 12 months by the time you get bills from all the companies, but that’s OK! I considered my name changed the day I walked out of the DMV.
I have one more tip: carry your divorce decree and marriage certificate with you wherever you go for a long time because you never know when or where you might be when you want to change your name back on some account. Also, if you have any airline tickets you might have booked with your married name, make sure you don’t change your name back before the trip; otherwise, you could have issues at the airport. And again, carry your marriage certificate and divorce decree with you for trips for the first year, especially if you are bringing your kids. I’m not sure if this is required, but it’s a good, safe thing to do in case there are any questions from authorities.
The decision to change your name back after divorce is very personal, and there is no right or wrong choice to be made. There is also no set timeline for changing your name back, meaning you can do it right away, wait a few years like I did, or keep your married name for the rest of your life.
My kids’ friends still call me Mrs. So and So, and I do not correct them and say, “Oh, please call me Ms. Pilossoph.” That would just make them feel uncomfortable. My ex is even remarried, so there are two Mrs. So and Sos in our town to the kids, but even that’s OK. It doesn’t bother me.
I remember being so excited to change my name when I got married, which was a big deal to me back then. Changing my name back felt just as exciting, but in a very different way. It made me feel like I was still the same person I was before I got married, had kids, and then went through this very sad and awful divorce. Of course I’m different in some ways, but having my old name back makes me feel strong and independent, and like everything is going to be OK moving forward. How could it not, now that I have the name I share with my awesome family back?
To me, I’m Jackie Pilossoph and beyond proud of my name, but even more important, I’m proud of who I am and how I live my life. I think that is the ultimate goal, no matter what name someone goes by.
Check out the ESME Tribe just for women who are divorced and separated to get advice and support.
Jackie Pilossoph, ESME’s Divorce Resource Guide, is the creator of Divorced Girl Smiling, a website that helps men and women facing divorce. She is also a weekly Huffington Post divorce blogger; the writer of a weekly column, “Love Essentially,” for the Chicago Tribune’s Pioneer Press; and a freelance corporate and business content writer. Pilossoph holds a master’s degree in journalism. She lives in Chicago with her two children. Oh, and she’s divorced.