With all the serious issues that must be resolved in a divorce — from separating property and finances, to determining child support and alimony — it can seem senseless to get caught up on something as trivial as a last name. However, this is an all too common scenario, particularly if the divorce was contentious.
Men can often feel as though their ex is just holding onto their last name as some enduring way to spite them (which may or may not be true). Or maybe they decide that a divorce should signify a final split, and their ex-wife keeping their surname symbolically prevents the break from happening.
However, no matter your reason for wanting the change, there is no legal obligation for your ex to go back to her maiden name. With essentially no legal means to require your ex to change her last name, your best option is to simply get over it and try to understand why she wants to keep it.
Reasons women may want to keep their ex-husband’s last name
Your ex may want to keep your last name for a variety of reasons, and most are pretty rational. It may be hard for you to see it, but most ex-wives don’t keep their ex-husband’s last name simply to be a source of constant irritation.
Continuity with children — One of the most common reasons an ex may keep your last name is to keep her name the same as any children. It is very understandable that your ex wants to have the same last name as her kids, just as you probably want to share their last name as well. Would you find it agreeable for her to change her name so long as she can change your children’s last name? If you aren’t okay with having a different last name than your kids, it is irrational to expect your wife to be okay with only changing hers.
Professionalism — Another common reason is the fact that many women are married around when they are beginning their careers. You cannot expect you ex, who likely spent years building up a reputation and professional contacts under her married name, to simply change that on your whim. Even though you are getting a divorce, your wife has likely spent the marriage building a brand for herself around that name. With the number of women in the workforce consistently increasing, it stands to reason that this will become a more and more common reason.
Length of marriage —The longer the marriage, the more likely your ex will feel entitled to keeping your last name. Sometimes, they will have held your last name longer than their maiden name. It is understandable that your ex may feel more comfortable with her married name than going back to one she hasn’t held for decades. She has grown and developed into the person she is under your last name and likely identifies much more strongly with it.
What you can do (there really isn’t much)
With essentially no legal action you can take to force your ex to change her name, you are left with very few options. In the end, you may just be stuck with her decision to keep it, even if it really bothers you.
Negotiate — Your best option is to negotiate for her to include reverting back to her maiden name in the divorce decree. If it is truly a very important issue for you, it may be possible to give some ground in an area that she feels strongly about. However, in a very contentious divorce, this may not be possible.
Offer a concession — Hyphenating last names is becoming more and more popular during marriage, and it is also an option after divorce. While this will not stop her from using your last name entirely, it allows her to continue sharing a part of her last name with her children, is less confusing to business associates and offers an alternative middle ground if you simply feel she should no longer fully share your name.
Acceptance — Your only option if all else fails is to simply move on with your life. This may be harsh if you have a fundamental disagreement with your ex keeping your last name, but unfortunately, there is pretty much nothing you can do about it. It basically comes down to harboring resentment for the rest of your life, or letting it go and moving on. With everything that you have endured throughout the divorce, this really should be a fairly easy thing to let go.
Your ex keeping your last name may feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back after a contentious divorce — particularly if everything already appeared to go her way. It may seem like the least she can do is give you your name back if she took everything else. However, as unfair as it may sound, there is nothing you can do to force a change.
If you have a spiteful ex and you fear she may simply hold onto the name because it’s important to you, don’t make a big deal out of it. Perhaps if it doesn’t seem like a significant matter, she will change it on her own. But also understand that there are plenty of legitimate reasons for her not to change her name as well, and whether you agree with them or not, it doesn’t really matter in the eyes of the law.
Once you realize that you do not own your last name and that hundreds of other people out there likely share it as well, you will be much better off. There really isn’t a point in fighting something when there is no legal ground to stand upon.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”