Q: My ex-wife was ordered to return to her maiden name after our divorce. She does sometimes. She continues to use my last name when applying for rental property (she was evicted). She was also admitted to the hospital and used my last name. Plus, she has remarried and tries using all three last names when trying to obtain credit. This can’t be legal. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Of ALL the articles I have posted over the years, I get the greatest response from readers to articles about changing one’s name when marrying or getting a divorce. Emotions run high on both sides, from feeling it is disrespectful and a complete disregard for one’s new spouse if their partner does not change their last name when marrying to irate disbelief when a former partner doesn’t want to change their name back after divorce. It’s wasted energy.
There are two reasons most commonly cited for not changing one’s last name.
One, because they are known professionally by a certain name and feel it might affect their business negatively, confusing clients, or interfering with their business or notoriety in some way.
Two, because they have children from a previous relationship and want to continue to have the same last name as their children.
Ironically, number two is also the most common reason cited for not returning to their maiden name once divorced.
Before I continue, let me just say it is my understanding that someone can opt to return to their maiden name when divorcing and then that becomes part of the divorce decree. The way you presented it made it sound like the court made your ex-wife change her name. That is not the case. However, if she did return to her maiden name, or whatever name she chose as a result of getting divorced, that becomes her legal name. I’ve run into people who feel it’s OK to use a name if it was legally theirs at some point in time — and it sounds like your ex is one of those people — but according to the attorneys I consulted, if she uses a former name for legal interaction she’s committing fraud on the creditor. ”A name by any other name” is not the case here. So, it’s time for her to stop or she could end up in big trouble.
For you, it sounds like this is more of an irritant than anything else. She’s not using your legal name, only your last name, so the creditors can’t come after you for payment, particularly since you have a copy of the divorce decree stating she opted to return to her maiden name.
Finally, reading between the lines it sounds like you just don’t like her and don’t want her sharing your name. Don’t we all get that, but the truth is, when someone marries and they opt to change their name to their partner’s last name, it’s also their option to change it back if they break-up. Best thing? Remember Good Ex-etiquette rules Nos. 5 and 6 — “Don’t be spiteful” and “Don’t hold grudges.” Carrying this kind of resentment will only make you sick — and it won’t faze her one little bit. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.