Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's in a name? And should/can you change yours or the kids' after divorce?

Spring is around the corner, or at least that's what I've been promising my kids all winter long! Yesterday, my four-year-old and I sat down for a carpet picnic to at least simulate the joys of Summer. As we were preparing the feast she realized we didn't have any grapes and she reeeaaally wanted grapes, in a way that only a four-year-old can really want something. I offered her raisins with the explanation that they used to be grapes and wasn't that close enough? Her reply? "But, mommy, why can't they go back to being grapes? They would be happy then!" (I suspect she'd be the happy one, but it got me thinking...)

Many women adopt their husband's name upon marriage. Does that make them someone else? Some may think so, others say it is just a name and does not make you someone else, the way a grape becomes something else when it becomes a raisin. But it is a matter of personal choice and circumstances. For some women, the married name was an identity based on the marriage. And when the marriage ends, some women want to shed that common identity as a way of moving on. For others, the name just never sounded all that great with their first name or it was difficult to pronounce or spell.

Fortunately, unlike a raisin, you can go back to being a grape, if you want to. The Judicial Change of Name Act gives Pennsylvania courts control of requests for name changes. Changing one's name back to a previously used name, such as a maiden name, is relatively simple, when done in connection with the divorce. Essentially it is a matter of filing a request with the court.
§ 704. Divorced person may resume prior name.

(a) General rule.- Any person who is divorced from the bonds of matrimony may resume any prior surname used by him or her by filing a written notice to such effect in the office of the clerk of the court in which the decree of divorce was entered, showing the caption and docket number of the proceeding in divorce.

But what about changing children's names? That is not so simple. Court approval is required. A number of women that I know would like to change their name back to their maiden name, but refrain from doing so because they want to retain the same name as their children. There are circumstances where changing a child's names is permitted, but these are very specific and fact based occurrences. In determining whether to grant a name change request for a minor, the court looks to determine whether such a change is in the best interest of the child. Notice to the other parent is required and the other parent can object. If the other parent contests the name change the parent requesting the name change has the burden of proving why the name change is in the child's best interest. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court requires lower courts to consider factors including "the natural bonds between parent and child, the social stigma or respect afforded a particular name within the community, and, where the child is of sufficient age, whether the child intellectually and rationally understands the significance of changing his or her name."

You may want to consult with an attorney to determine the likelihood of success if you are considering changing your children's names.

Audrey Buglione is a family law attorney and single mom who lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with her three children. Her office is located in Dauphin County. She assists clients seeking divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support and alimony pendente lite in Dauphin, Cumberland, Lancaster, York, Perry, and Lebanon counties. Contact Audrey for a no-obligation confidential consultation.

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