While changing back to your maiden name after divorce is completely your choice, many individuals find it psychologically freeing to be rid of their former spouse's name. Hence, many divorce complaints or counterclaims include name change requests, which become effective upon the final judgement of divorce. Your can also file a request after the divorce is finalized, but you may be asked to appear in court before it's approved, which is a bit of a hassle. Still, it's nowhere near the hassle of filing for a name change when you have no legal reason to do so. In addition to divorce, adoption, naturalization, and the marriage of the parents after the child's birth are the only grounds for granting a name change as part of the legal petition, or by presenting proof to the State Registrar's Office.
It may surprise you that legal separation, which in New Jersey is known as a “limited divorce” or “divorce from bed and board”, is not one of the qualifying grounds. The rationale behind this assumption is that both divorce and legal separation are generally considered to be a change in marital status. The courts, however, must abide by the current statute, which reads, “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 key wording here is “a divorce from the bonds of matrimony”, meaning that the marriage has been legally dissolved. A limited divorce allows couples to live separate lives in many respects, but they are still married. Thus, they are excluded from the right to change their name by filing for, or after being granted a limited divorce. Such individuals have no choice but to go through the standard name change process, which involves filing the paperwork, paying a fee of $250, publishing a notice in the local paper, and appearing at a scheduled hearing. The judge should approve your request as long as there are no objections to your name change resulting from the public notice. The judge may, however, deny your request if it appears that you are changing your name to commit a crime or fraud, avoid criminal prosecution, or to avoid your creditors.
You may have other personal circumstances that should be taken into consideration prior to filing for a name change. It's highly recommended that you speak to a family law attorney about the best course of action, especially if you're planning on other related legal actions such as changing your children's last names. The family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. will be happy to advise you on your rights and legal options during a free initial consultation.