Info & Advice

Can my ex-wife keep my surname after divorce?

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Historically in the UK, it has been traditional for one party in a marriage to assume the other’s surname. And although there is no legal requirement to do so, most couples embrace the change. But when the marriage/civil partnership ends in divorce or dissolution, it can become an issue in dispute, particularly if the name is distinctive or well-known. So what are the options if an ex wants to retain their married name, and what if the other party is against it? Can an ex be forced to change or keep the name for the sake of the children? This article examines the possibilities.

Can my ex keep their married name after divorce?

An individual is free to keep their married name following divorce. Whether or not someone decides to keep their married name is a personal choice and entirely that person’s decision. The other party can neither force the person to give up this name or make them keep it, whether it is a distinctive family name or for the sake of family unity.

Even where hereditary titles are involved, the freedom to choose to retain a name is maintained. In 1901, the hereditary Earl and Countess Cowley battled court proceedings over whether the Countess could keep using her husband’s title after the divorce. The Court of Appeal found that Countess Cowley did not infringe upon her ex-husband by using the title and threw his case out of court. Although this is an old case, the law still stands and confirms an individual is entitled to assume and use any name at their own discretion.

Why would someone want to keep their married name?

There are many reasons someone would want to retain their married name. If they have children, they may want to ensure everyone within the family shares the same surname. It will certainly make travel abroad easier where border control staff can demand evidence of parentage if they suspect child abduction. If the marriage has been a long one, they may feel that since everyone knows them by a particular name over many years, giving it up could seem like losing a big part of their identity. Sometimes, people simply prefer the sound of their married name.

In many cases, holding on to a name is easier than going through the process of changing it and having to inform a plethora of people and organisations. This process can be time consuming, and potentially expensive.

What can I do to persuade my ex to change their surname?

As stated throughout this article, if your ex wishes to retain their married name, there is not much you can do. However, if you remain on cordial terms, you may be able to persuade them to do so, although there is a fine line between encouragement and controlling behaviour which is always unacceptable, and unlawful.

Often husbands treat their surname like a non-matrimonial asset that needs to be returned if the relationship ends. The best bet is to try to negotiate the return of the name as part of the overall financial deal, and ask the wife to provide an undertaking in the consent order to change her name back before pronouncement of the final order. The divorce application asks the question whether the individual would like to retain their married name or be known and referred to by their maiden name (the name before marriage) once the divorce is finalised.

This issue is often not mentioned or thought twice about until the moment that the final order comes through and by then it is too late if the wife refuses to agree, as any leverage the husband had is lost. If the wife agrees to revert to her maiden name, the final divorce order can be used to evidence the alteration.

There are cases where women who took their husbands name want to revert to their maiden name in order to reclaim their pre-marriage identity. This can help them break from the past and move forward, and can also be a persuasive reason for change. But everyone has a different reason for either retaining or relinquishing use of their married name, and is free to choose when, or if, to do so.

Can I drop a double-barrelled surname I created with my ex-wife when we married?

Men who merged their wife’s surname with their own to create a new double-barrelled name, and wish to remove the wife’s surname following divorce to revert to their birth surname, is likely to need either a change of name deed or Deed Poll.

Recently, it has become popular for marrying couples to merge their two surnames into one new one. If you have blended your surnames in this way, for example, Bloom and Hunt become Blunt, a Deed Poll will be required to revert to your birth name.

A solicitor can draft a change of name deed which must be signed and witnessed. However, a Deed Poll is slightly different, and you will need to make an application to the Royal Courts of Justice and pay an admin fee. This means your new name will be on public record which will allow you to apply for new documents such as a driving licence or passport.

Can my ex change our children’s surnames to her maiden name?

Before your ex can legally change your children’s surnames, they must obtain the consent of all those who hold parental responsibility. If you do not consent, your ex would need to apply to the court for permission to change their surname. The court would then look at whether it was in your child’s best interest for it to take place.

That said, it is important to be aware that many schools and GPs offer the option of registering the child with a “known as” name. Whilst the child’s legal name will still be on official documentation, their teacher will refer to them with their known as name, and it will appear on some less official documentation, such as the attendance register or school report.

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