How Does a Woman Go Back to Her Maiden Name After a Divorce?

December 14, 2013
Louis Sternberg

How does the wife go back to the use of her maiden name after the divorce?

Divorce is a significant life event that often prompts individuals to reassess various aspects of their lives, including their identity. One aspect that holds particular significance for many individuals, especially women, is the decision to reclaim their maiden name. The right to revert to a maiden name after divorce represents more than just a legal procedure; it symbolizes the reclaiming of one’s identity, autonomy, and agency.

The right to revert to a maiden name after divorce varies by jurisdiction but is generally recognized in many countries worldwide. In the United States, for example, most states allow individuals to petition the court for a name change as part of the divorce decree. This process typically involves filing a formal request and providing a valid reason for the name change, such as personal preference or the desire to reclaim one’s pre-marital identity.

Historical Context of Name Changes in Marriage and Divorce

The tradition of women taking their husband’s surname upon marriage has deep historical roots, often rooted in patriarchal societal structures. This practice symbolized the transfer of a woman from her father’s household to her husband’s, signifying her new familial allegiance. However, with the rise of feminist movements and changing societal attitudes towards gender roles, the significance of names has evolved.

The 20th century witnessed significant strides in women’s rights, including legal reforms that granted women more autonomy and agency within marriage and divorce proceedings. One such reform was the recognition of a woman’s right to retain or resume her maiden name after divorce. This shift reflected a broader societal acknowledgment of women’s individuality and the importance of maintaining one’s identity beyond marital status.

New York Law on Going Back to a Maiden Name After a Divorce

New York Domestic Relations Law 240-a addresses this issue of going back to a maiden name after a divorce in New York. That section provides:

Judgment or decree; additional provision. In any action or proceeding brought under the provisions of this chapter wherein all or part of the relief granted is divorce or annulment of a marriage any interlocutory or final judgment or decree shall contain, as a part thereof, the social security numbers of the named parties in the action or proceeding, as well as a provision that each party may resume the use of his or her premarriage surname or any other former surname.

In any New York State Judgment of Divorce, there will be a provision stating:

Ordered and Adjudged that (plaintiff) (defendant) is authorized to resume the use of her maiden name or other former surname, to wit _________(prior surname)
Contrary to a common belief, the name change provisions need note be negotiated between the parties or otherwise contained in a Stipulation of Settlement.  Instead, the ability to resume use of that maiden name is a statutory right of the parties and need not be negotiated.
Please note that the Judgment states that the former-wife “is authorized” resume use of the maiden name.  There are two consequences of this language.  First, the language does not create any obligation on the ex-wife to use her maiden name.  Secondly, the divorce does not actually change the former-wife’s name automatically.  The ex-wife must provide a copy of the judgment of divorce to any agency where she is seeking to have her name changed.  Additionally, many government agencies require a certified copy as opposed to a photocopy.
The right to resume a maiden name after divorce is more than just a legal provision; it is a fundamental expression of individual autonomy, agency, and identity. By reclaiming their maiden names, individuals assert their right to define themselves on their own terms and break free from societal expectations and constraints. Whether viewed as a symbol of empowerment, a practical necessity, or a deeply personal choice, the decision to resume a maiden name after divorce represents a powerful affirmation of selfhood and the enduring quest for self-discovery and fulfillment.