Kissed a lot of frogs before I found my Prince. Now, should I take his name?
February 2, 2009 8:56 AM   Subscribe

What, if any, legal ramifications would there be if I change my last name to that of my Spousal Equivalent, without getting married?

Back story:

My sweetie and I are both well past the age of consent. When we began this relationship five years ago, neither one of us wanted or needed to get married again. He had just recovered financially and emotionally from his last entanglement, and so had I. Marriage was the last thing on our minds. Seeing if we could sustain a healthy relationship with someone was the only consideration.

Five years later, we've spent two years living as close neighbors, and now have been living together under the same roof for almost three years. We're settled, committed, and as good as married in the tone and texture of our lives. We introduce each other as "Beloved Spousal Equivalent" to new folks, and are accepted as nearly married by friends and family. Even his ex-wife introduces me to folks as his "Soul Mate." It's a pretty cool deal, all-in-all!

The rub:

I'm really sorry I didn't change my name to something else when I divorced, back before I met Beloved Spousal Equivalent. I absolutely hate being Mrs. or Ms. B*#@&<.... and have been struggling with what to use as a surname for a few years. For complex reasons, I don't want to go back to my maiden name, and nothing else really struck my fancy. I've been poking around lists of names, looking for a good one for a while. I even thought of having a contest to Rename Corky.

Yesterday, a casual conversation about last names led to me teasing and asking him if I could take his last name. He said "Sure." I said "You wouldn't think it was weird? I mean, people will think we're married." He said "I don't care. We might as well be. Change it to mine, if that's what you want. I figure we'll get married anyway in a few years, once The Sole Heir (his daughter) is out of college." Financial aid issues, you understand.

Hmmm. Okay. I like his last name. It suits the sounds of my first name, and hey, like he said - Why not?

Assuming I still like this idea after a good deal of pondering, what legal issues might I encounter? I'd have to change my name legally, and inform my place of employment. Except, I wouldn't be changing my marital status. My coworkers all know us as a couple, so a name change will prompt questions. I don't mind questions, I just don't want to run afoul of accusations of fraud. We wouldn't file taxes as a married couple, nor would we purchase anything together. We've already written wills, POAs, etc. to cover all the contingencies and to establish our wishes. We approached preparing the legal documents as coming in through the back door to get the same rights as a married couple.

What might I be overlooking? (Note: I am not asking about the potential to make an honest woman out of me in a few years. That's another issue, and not my primary concern. I was unfazed when he made his comments, so that must mean I'm not freaking out.)
posted by Corky to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you live together and you share the last surname and bills, you are legally married. I specifically researched and asked this awhile back in the state of Texas, though, and that came up when we broke up (I DIDN'T change my name to his, but we had bills/cohabitation, and that gave him 30 days to claim property, sue me, etc. after the breakup because technically it was a "common-law divorce"). So, legally, once you change your name to Boyfriend's Surname, live together, and receive bills together, you are legally Mrs. Boyfriend's Surname.

Disclaimer: This is in Texas, I am not sure if Maryland laws are drastically different but I can't imagine that they would be.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:00 AM on February 2, 2009

Response by poster: Maryland is different. No common law marriages. Period. Doesn't matter what your living arrangements are, or for how long, or names, or bills, or even major purchases like a home.
posted by Corky at 9:04 AM on February 2, 2009

I don't mind questions, I just don't want to run afoul of accusations of fraud.

The main issue would be someone assuming you were married due to the same name, without asking, and then accusing you of fraud when that was revealed to not be true. The best defense would be to explicitly explain your marital status anytime the potential comes up.

You may think this would be an easy thing, but what if your boyfriend was critically injured in an accident and you wouldn't be allowed to visit him if you weren't his wife? It would be very easy to keep quiet or misrepresent yourself.
posted by smackfu at 9:16 AM on February 2, 2009

In NC, you wouldn't be married (this is to expand on what Unicorn o t C was saying), so I wouldn't assume you are legally married. It's definitely not the same everywhere.
posted by amtho at 9:17 AM on February 2, 2009

If your state doesn't have any common law marriages, I can't imagine there would be any legal ramifications, unless you moved to another state. I would check with the Alternatives to Marriage Project (at work or I would search it the site myself).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:18 AM on February 2, 2009

If there's no common law marriage, then it sounds like there are no legal issues (and I am pretty sure that all states that recognize common-law marriage require you to intend to be married for a common-law marriage to be in effect; living together with the same last name does not cut it) but you will absolutely confuse the hell out of people. If you ever have to establish that you aren't actually married, even though you have the same last name, folks might even assume you are recently divorced from each other, or brother and sister, or something equally weird and off-base.
posted by phoenixy at 9:19 AM on February 2, 2009

This is in Texas, I am not sure if Maryland laws are drastically different but I can't imagine that they would be.

I can.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:27 AM on February 2, 2009

Let me first say I'm happy to hear you have such a wonderful relationship with this man. But if you just want to get rid of your ex's last name, you don't want your maiden name either, and you are both currently opposed to actually getting married, I don't know why choosing this man's name is such a good idea (at this time).

Would you want to keep this new last name even if things fell apart sometime in the future, or would you change it to something else again?
posted by lizbunny at 9:35 AM on February 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

There shouldn't be any legal ramifications beyond the minor annoyance of having to get a new driver's license, social security card, updating correspondence/bills etc. Oh, and going forward you'll have to remember to mention your previous last name whenever you apply for credit etc so there's no question of SSN fraud.

My wife took my last name as well before we were legally married. It took 3 lines on a form, $125 and 3 minutes at the probate court. We're in CT, so YMMV, but seriously, it was no big deal.
posted by widdershins at 9:37 AM on February 2, 2009

Changing your name, other than causing a fair amount of bureaucratic headaches of which you're probably already aware (driver's license, Social Security, employment, bank accounts, you know the drill), wouldn't actually have any effect on your legal status. Getting married and changing your name are in fact two completely distinct legal operations, i.e. you can do one without the other. Unmarried people change their names all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with their marital status. Provided you've got clear POAs set up and your wishes regarding next-of-kin, etc. are adequately specified, this won't actually make any difference.

Just be careful to make clear that you aren't actually married in situations where it would make a difference, and you should be fine.
posted by valkyryn at 9:41 AM on February 2, 2009

You might check whether you need to do anything legal. It might be kosher, in MD, to just start using another name if you want*, though in that case your SSN and driver's license would still call you Corky Oldlastname instead of Corky Newlastname, and probably your bank stuff too.

*As long as you don't use it for fraudulent purposes, but the key there is to not use it for fraudulent purposes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:07 AM on February 2, 2009

Consider that you may one day move to a state where common-law marriage is recognized.
posted by grouse at 10:23 AM on February 2, 2009

"If you live together and you share the last surname and bills, you are legally married."

I assume that you would also have to be unrelated, as my brother and I shared an apartment for a couple years and we didn't have to divorce when he left.
posted by klangklangston at 10:23 AM on February 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

klangklangston, that is obviously a vast oversimplification of the situation. I think it would be more accurate to say that if you live together and one of you changes your name to be the same as the other, and you live in a common-law marriage jurisdiction, then you should consider the possibility that you are legally married.
posted by grouse at 10:27 AM on February 2, 2009

You might be interested to know that the District of Columbia does recognize common-law marriage.
The requirements for a common-law marriage are: (1) an express, present intent to D.C. be married and (2) cohabitation.
Seems like a stretch that it would impact you unless you move.
posted by exogenous at 10:56 AM on February 2, 2009

He said "I don't care. We might as well be. Change it to mine, if that's what you want. I figure we'll get married anyway in a few years, once The Sole Heir (his daughter) is out of college." Financial aid issues, you understand.

Since it's usually much cheaper and easier for women to change their names upon marriage, I would wait until you guys legally marry until you go through the legal name change. Otherwise, I'd just start casually going by the new last name in social and business situations.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:01 AM on February 2, 2009

As an FYI, most states allow you to change your name to whatever you want at any time as long as is isn't frivolous. Marriage allows you to get this name change for free - you know, free name change with purchase of marriage certificate.

Changing your name is the usual amount of bureaucratic nonsense, mostly for record keeping, but also to keep the loonies from changing their names every other day. You fill out a DR60 form and submit and publicly announce your petition (ie, in a newspaper) and if nobody says boo, it goes to a judge.

IANAL, but I read through the DR60 and the associated instructions and there is nothing that requires you to say that your new name is the same as your pelvic affiliate. There is a space for you to fill in why, and you can just put in something like, "name from previous marriage - I've grown to loathe it".

To my mind, your name change and your legal status are two separate issues. Lots of people change their names - it's not out of the ordinary. A friend of mine in college reclaimed his family's original name prior to it taking an assault at Ellis Island. He jumped through the hoops - no big deal.
posted by plinth at 11:05 AM on February 2, 2009

*As long as you don't use it for fraudulent purposes, but the key there is to not use it for fraudulent purposes.-ROU_Xenophobe

That's pretty much the big issue.
posted by Atreides at 2:38 PM on February 2, 2009

My Mum had his kids, a ring and his name for years before they actually married. (He'd been married before so it had never been part of the plan.) Knowing them they wouldn't have signed anything - she would've just started using it. But this is Australia and marriage aside assumed names are perfectly fine - as long as there is no intent to mislead or defraud (the government).
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:18 PM on February 2, 2009

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