Two big questions in divorce and child custody cases are “When can I change my name?” and “When can I change my child’s name?”

The answer to the first is “almost any time you want.” The answer to the second is “it’s not so easy.” An adult may use any name he/she wishes, so long as there is no intent to defraud. While married women customarily take their husbands’ surnames, there is no requirement that they do so. Indeed, most married women in the entertainment field, and many women professionals, continue to use their own names (or stage names), or a hyphenated version of their names and their spouses names. A woman separated from her husband but not yet divorced may use her prior surname if she wishes. She will not, however, be able to change any official records,  such as voting records or driver’s license records, without a court order.

In New York State, all judgment of divorce must include a provision permitting resumption of use of a prior surname.

Changing a child’s name is not that easy. Take the case of a women with children who has remarried. Presume that, since the divorce, the first husband passed away. The courts will not allow the mother to seek a change of the child’s surname to her new husband’s surname as some kind of back-door adoption.

Until the child comes of age, the courts will not allow the mother to change the child’s name without the consent of the biological father. In fact, most separation agreements include a clause providing that neither parent will allow the child (or children) to be known by any surname other than the father’s surname.

A child who has reached adulthood, or course, may change his name legally if he/she wishes.

Do you want to change a name? Call 516 319-2000.