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Can I Make My Ex Change Her Last Name After a New Jersey Divorce?


In the recent New Jersey divorce case of Tracy Morgan and his estranged wife of five years, the comedian demanded his soon-to-be-ex revert back to using her maiden name. Can he do that?

In short: We’re skeptical. No law in New Jersey can compel someone to resume use of their maiden name post-divorce. There is a small chance the outcome may depend on the terms of the prenuptial agreement, which TMZ reports the couple does have. The question would be whether there is a name provision in the agreement and further whether the judge agrees that provision should be upheld.

Why Keep Your Married Name After Divorce?

No one is required to take on their spouse’s surname when they get married, but it’s a popular tradition. One study published in the Journal of Family Issues found that just 6 percent of married, native-born American women had what would be considered an “unconventional” last name. That would include hyphenating their last name, taking on two last names or keeping their maiden name.

But there are lots of reasons one might want to keep their former spouse’s surname, even after a split. Among them:

  • For the children. This is probably the most commonly-cited reason. Parents want to have the same last name as their children, either to avoid negative presumptions or hassles at the doctor’s office, airport, school, etc.
  • To maintain consistent identity. This is particularly true if you’ve been married a long time. You may have built up your career using that name. It’s how your colleagues, friends, clients, students and acquaintances know you.
  • To avoid the hassle. Your degrees, certifications, etc. may all be in that name. Same with your bank account, credit cards, mortgage, Social Security card, driver’s license, etc. Some of these entities will need to be informed one-by-one of any changes.

Of course, many divorcees want to revert to their old name anyway, wishing to have as little personal association with their ex as possible or simply to start over.

Know that if you wait until after the divorce is over to request a name change, you may have to initiate a separate name change proceeding, in which case you may have to pay hundreds of dollars in court fees, etc.

Name Change Choices Are Typically Up to the Individual

The bottom line is the decision of a name change after divorce is one that belongs to the individual. A former spouse may choose to keep their married name, irrespective of their ex’s wishes.

The one possible exception – which may come into play in the Morgan case – is the presence of a prenuptial agreement provision requiring a spouse to revert to their previous name. This does make a bit more sense in the context of a person who entered into the marriage with a name that amounts to a prominent brand. However, as our East Brunswick divorce attorneys can explain, there’s no guarantee this provision of the prenuptial agreement will be upheld – especially if the marriage was lengthy or involved children who share the same last name.

But even if there is no way for a spouse to force a name change, it could be used as a potential bargaining chip. For some people, such a thing is not significant enough to compel a concession on other issues. But for someone with a certain degree of professional investment in their name, it could be.

Our longtime divorce lawyers in New Jersey can help you weigh your options.

Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.