After Marriage: Legally Changing Your Name

Many believe that one spouse must give up their “maiden name" and legally change their last name to match the other spouse's last name after marriage. Today that is not the case.

Anyone is free to do the following for their married name:

  • Keep their own name
  • Hyphenate their name with a spouse's name
  • Take their spouse's name
  • Come up with a completely new and different name

These options can result in a legal name change if not done criminally or fraudulently.

Before considering any name change after marriage, it's important to ensure that you're happy with the name you choose. You must also know what changes are permitted through the marriage certificate process and state law.

For example, changing your name to something other than your new spouse's name may require filing a motion or petition in court.

Legal Name Change Process

Here are the first steps you must take to legally change your name after getting married:

  1. Use your new name on the marriage certificate (this may be acceptable if you are taking the spouse's last name or hyphenating the two names, but to avoid any hassle, check with your court clerk's office).
  2. Change your identification documents, such as your Social Security card, driver's license, or state-issued I.D.

You must present a certified copy of your marriage certificate to change your identification documents. If the marriage doesn't work out, you have the freedom to change your name back after the divorce.

Using Your Spouse's Last Name

Changing your last name to your new spouse's last name is relatively easy. Once you follow the steps above, you need to:

  1. Begin using that name
  2. Use your new name in social settings and with family members
  3. Use the name when you notify people of a change of address
  4. Use your new name when you open new bank accounts, credit cards, and memberships (you can also call any company you have an account with to change your name)

Most people and places are pretty amenable to this, but because of the threat of identity theft and fraud, many financial companies require documentation of your name. A copy of your marriage license and/or certificate should suffice. But ask to speak to a supervisor if it doesn't. You have the right to change your name after marriage legally. You can remind them of that if they're difficult to work with.

Not Using Your New Spouse's Last Name

Changing your last name to something other than your spouse's name is legal. However, it may require more than just the marriage license and certificate. Usually, a court order is needed.

File a motion to formally change your name with the appropriate court (often the probate court). Each state is different about what they require, so check your state's laws on the topic. For example, in Ohio, you cannot have a conviction for:

  • I.D. fraud
  • A sexually-oriented offense (duty to register)
  • A child-victim offense

You will also need to supply a valid reason in Ohio and most states. You can state this in your petition or the form provided by the county clerk. Find your state listed and click into the Family Law section to find state-specific laws for changing your name.

Typical Process For Changing Your Name

Most states require you to file different forms in court. State government websites have printable forms online. The questions on the forms are very straightforward and may include:

  • Your old name
  • Your desired new name
  • Social Security number
  • The reason for your name change
  • A promise that you are not changing your name to commit fraud or to escape debt or criminal liability

The most commonly required forms include the following:

  • A petition to legally change your name
  • An order to show cause for legally changing your name
  • A decree to legally change your name

Once you have these forms filled out, you can take them, along with your state's required filing fees, to the county clerk and file them. Your local court may also require copies of other documents such as a driver's license, U.S. passport, or photo ID for proof of identity.

A local judge will typically review your forms and approve the name change.

However, you should know that some states require a formal advertisement to use your new name. You can often satisfy this by posting a notice in the local newspaper. When changing your name after marriage, an engagement announcement in the newspaper is usually sufficient to fulfill the formal advertisement requirement.

Informing People of Your New Name

The best way to tell people you've changed your name is to start using it. Telling friends, family, and coworkers is easy and doesn't require any formal process.

Other entities, such as government agencies and financial institutions, usually require proof of your name change. This can be provided with a marriage license/certificate or court order.

The entities that should be notified of your name change include:

Remember that updating your name on social media accounts and in email signatures as soon as you're married is perfectly fine. You can change it socially before officially changing it at the DMV or Social Security Office. Just don't forget to get your new social security card, voter registration, and other government documents in order after completing your name change petition.

Changing Minor Children's Names After Marriage

Your new family may want to change a child's name after marriage. For example, you might want your child to take the stepparent's name because the child's other parent is deceased or not in their life. This involves a separate process and can differ if the case involves a father's rights or a divorce.

Need Legal Help for Name Changes?

Changing your name is an exciting and important part of getting married and saying "I do." It is important to get it right to avoid headaches down the road.

You should consider talking to a family law attorney who can help you with name change forms to simplify changing your name after marriage.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

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