Am I going to get sued for not changing my name back after a divorce?
December 29, 2006 1:53 AM   Subscribe

Am I going to get sued for not changing my name back after a divorce?

I got divorced about 5 years ago. In the papers, I remember signing that I would go back to my maiden name. When it came time to change everything, they were asking for original documents, but I only had copies, and he had dissapeared with the originals. I know that I procrastinated, and it isn't something I'm proud of, but I never seemed to have the money to get the original copies from the court.

I used my maiden name when I could, but most of my records still have my married name. I just got a letter out of the blue from my ex, accusing me of "unauthorized use of his last name" and that if I don't have it cleared up by the 8th of next month that he will "have his laywers contact me".

I wrote him back and asked fo the original copies and will get it changed ASAP, but can he actualy sue me for illegal use of his name?! This is in Oregon if it is relevant.
posted by haplesschild to Law & Government (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I wrote him back and asked fo the original copies and will get it changed ASAP, but can he actualy sue me for illegal use of his name?!

Not under normal law, a last name isn't like a trademark, it's not something you own. But if you signed a binding contract that could change things.

So it all comes down to the settlement agreement, I would contact a lawyer, but that would cost more money then getting the original documents.
posted by delmoi at 2:08 AM on December 29, 2006

that sounds ridiculous to me. you could change your name to whatever you wanted with deedpoll so he's not making any sense. it's not like you've taken his first name and are trying to impersonate him for nefarious reasons.

i'd ignore him. probably a good thing he's an ex. :-)

the outraged
posted by taff at 2:10 AM on December 29, 2006

I don't think it's possible to sue someone for this. People have aliases all the time.

Two things strike me about this: firstly, he seems to have been holding a grudge for at least five years, so he's probably not the person to rely on for legal advice; secondly, if I'd attempted to pull this on my ex-wife, I'm fairly certain that she would have legally changed her name to something along the lines of 'veedubyaisanasshole'.

The more I think about this, the weirder I think it is. The only way it could possibly matter, legally, is if you were (or he believed you were) purporting to represent his interests as part of a still-married couple.
posted by veedubya at 2:22 AM on December 29, 2006

NAL, but

It sounds like the most you can be sued for violating a contract. Though I'd like to see your ex husband prove damages.

The "unauthorized use of his last name" is bullshit. Most people with my last name use it without my authorization (and I theirs).

Though if he's threatening legal action, you should probably talk to a lawyer. Maybe you can get him to foot the bill for the name change since he's such a dick about it, and it would cost less than him taking you to court.
posted by Ookseer at 2:34 AM on December 29, 2006

I don't think it's possible to sue someone for this. People have aliases all the time.

You can certainly be sued for it. Whether or not he has a winnable case is a completely separate thing from whether or not you can be sued for it.
posted by juv3nal at 3:34 AM on December 29, 2006

I agree with juv3nal. People can and do sue for ridiculous reasons.

There are some sanctions, however, which discourage frivoulous lawsuits.

This one would not fall in that category, though, since you had a contractual issue involved that is legit. Sounds like someone is enjoying being persnickety.

Practically, unless you stand to lose something (like alimony), it is probably just going to be a nag or nuisance, and a continuing reason for you to extend the drama that led to the breakup in the first place.

It might feel quite freeing to change the name and punctuate this period of your life and have it behind you. You can even choose something besides your maiden name. While you are at it, you can make adjustments to your others, too. It's not like height or skin color... you weren't born with those labels. Who are you, now?

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 5:29 AM on December 29, 2006

You signed a contract, and you haven't adhered to it, so he can sue you. He can be awarded damages based on the position he would have been in had you adhered to the contract. If that position is no different, i.e. if your breach of contract hasn't affected him at all, then damages should be zero. But still a lot of hassle, and I'd have a word with a lawyer about it.
posted by tiny crocodile at 5:50 AM on December 29, 2006

Tell him to bring it on. Do some research, and defend yourself if you go to court.

Unless you've got a bucket of alimony or the settlement was particularly to your benefit...
posted by ewkpates at 6:08 AM on December 29, 2006

If I recall from my divorces, the purpose of going back to your maiden name is there more for your benefit, not as a protection for him. Frivolous lawsuit and needless drama indeed. He could bring suit, but it will be one of those idiotic lawsuits intended to do nothing but cause you stress.

For psychological reasons, go back to who you were before him. Don't wait to get the originals from him as I will bet they will come sprinkled with more needless drama, too. Spend the $ to get them from the court yourself and get him out of your life.
posted by kat at 6:44 AM on December 29, 2006

He sounds like a total dick, but that's besides the point. He can sue you, but the only way I think he'd win is depending on what you agreed to do in the divorce.

It should be fairly easy to get original copies of documents without your ex getting involved though. You need to change your social security card, drivers' license & registration, and then your banking info. The social security crap will take the longest if you have to do it by mail.

If you need original certified copies of records like a birth certificate or marriage certificate, you don't need the copies you were already given. You can get NEW original certified copies from the town clerk's office. They'll charge you a nominal fee, but the copies they will give you will be as good as the ones you've kept around for years, with a raised seal and everything.

I would first call your local social security office to find out which documents you need to change your name back. I just changed my name due to marriage, and all I needed were my passport (or drivers' license) and my marriage certificate. Because of the divorce, they may need some kind of additional documentation, but you can get a live person on the phone who can help you.

Then, fill out the replacement social security card form (they have specific instructions for name changes), and bring that along with all of your additional proof-of-identity docs to the local social security office. Be prepared to wait awhile & bring a book. You should be able to get your replacement card same day, though.

After that, you can proceed to your local DMV (visit the state's DMV website to find out what info you'll need to change your name). Bring all necessary supporting documents, and prepare to wait in line again. You should get a temporary replacement license same day, again.

You can then call and/or visit all of your banks, etc, to change your name in their system.

This is all a total pain in the ass, but it can be done. Good luck!
posted by tastybrains at 7:42 AM on December 29, 2006

Call your original divorce attorney and ask them. I am sure they can tell you on the phone, for free, what you need to do.
posted by lee at 8:35 AM on December 29, 2006

In the papers, I remember signing that I would go back to my maiden name.

IANAL, but I wonder if you can counter his likely empty threats with some loophole logic:

Did the paperwork specify a time frame? Or just "after the divorce is final?"

Did it specify that you legally change your name, or just return to using your maiden name? (Because you are using your maiden name, and have plenty of documentation to show that you are known by your maiden name in your day-to-day life.)

Also, on a side did he find out that you had not legally changed your name back to your maiden name?
posted by desuetude at 8:38 AM on December 29, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for helping me with this. I am going down to the DMV with everything I do have tomorrow (I found my birth certificate!) and will see if I can start the process.

Here is what I actually signed: That the wife (my name) does request that a former name be restored to (my maiden name). No time frame or anything else.

I don't have any alimony or anything else from the divorce- this was a real cut & run situation. desuetude- he says he "found it by researching his name online"..meaning he was bored and googling people.
posted by haplesschild at 8:52 AM on December 29, 2006

IANAL. That sounds like the standard wording of the thing, it's usually in the property settlement. (In this state, no clue about yours.) In our state, it is commonly interpreted as meaning you may use your maiden name if you want to, but it's pretty common for divorced ladies to wait to change it until they change jobs, the kids are out of the house, or some other convenient time. (I've seen some ugly fights in court about the doctor's ex using his name, but that's not common.)
I'd suspect he has a new lady friend who thinks she is about to become Mrs. Whatever, and does not want two of them floating around. That's a common reason for this kind of thing.
Just chat up the old lawyer, and wade in. The legal papers and your birth certificate is probably enough to make the SS office happy, and take a book, but it can be done fairly quickly. Once you get the card, the rest of it is all downhill.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 9:18 AM on December 29, 2006

IAAL, but it has been a while since I did divorces.

Do what you want. That term in your divorce judgment is for your convenience so it is easier for you to take the judgment to the SS office, DMV, etc. to get your name changed back. You can call yourself whatever you want. He's acting like he has a trademark on his name or something. What an asswipe.

I would think a judge would get really pissy if your ex went into court for that.
posted by Miastar at 9:24 AM on December 29, 2006

Here is what I actually signed: That the wife (my name) does request that a former name be restored to (my maiden name). No time frame or anything else.

Hmm, that dosn't sound very binding. I personaly think he'd get laughed out of a courtroom if he actually tried to sue you, but I'm not a lawyer.
posted by delmoi at 9:39 AM on December 29, 2006

That clause smells of boilerplate, likely there because different states have different processes for handling legal name changes. Perhaps in Oregon (or some regions of Oregon) it is there because simply filing the paperwork for a divorce is enough to constitute a legal name change. I'm speculating there, but that's the way a surname change in the state of New York works when getting married - if you fill out what you want your new name to be on the license then you don't have to file a separate petition to the court for your new name.

Answering your actual question, "Am I going to get sued?" is impossible - it boils down to how big a pain in the ass your ex is of a mind to be and what he's willing to spend to to be one.

The implied question "Will I lose? What will happen if I do?" depends on your divorce agreement. There would have to be specific language and penalties in there in order for him to prevail.

If you want to change your name anyway why not do it and have one less point of contact with this crank? If you want to put the screws to him a little then tell him if it's so important to him then he can pay the filing fees. Presuming there's nothing in your agreement that requires you to do it and you think he's more interested in the result than in punishing you.
posted by phearlez at 10:24 AM on December 29, 2006

After years of divorce my ex-wife continues to use my last name, which I'll admit kinda irks me (if she wanted autonomy from our relationship, you would think she would drop all associations to me). However it's my understanding there is a) nothing I can legally do about it b) it's not important enough to get riled up about and c) would show weakness and enmity.

If the reason you really want to keep his last name is because it sounds better than "Naaktgeboren", tell him. Maybe he'll continue to act like an asshat but maybe by being forthright he'll back off. If he doesn't and proceeds with a lawsuit, you'll win.
posted by dropkick at 10:35 AM on December 29, 2006

In that case, I'd ignore him. Or say that in accordance with the divorce agreement, you will change your name. But in accordance the fact that he's not your husband, it's none of his damn business when you do so.

Some fodder for your righteous indignation:
Is he even the kind of guy who would research his family online? Is it an unusual enough name he would even happen across your name without some effort? Aside from guessing that you hadn't bothered with the formality, does he even have any proof that you are using his name? (Google hits aren't legal documents, after all.)

IA(still)NAL, but I say change your name at your leisure. Formal letters with legal-y language are a very good way to scare and intimidate people, but he sounds like he watches too much TV. Unauthorized use indeed.

A good friend of mine petitioned the court for a name change back to her maiden name recently. She got divorced around twenty years ago. The judge was bemused, accepted her explanation that she waited until her kids were grown, and made it so.
posted by desuetude at 11:40 AM on December 29, 2006

Could always counterclaim he stole your valuable personal papers, putting you at risk for identity theft.

The fellow is not going to win any lawsuits, and would have a hard time convincing a lawyer to take the case with any expectation of a win. Most likely he fired this off without any thought and is simply trying to bully you into action. If he actually had legal consul my guess is this would not make it to court. A counter suit for harassment would have a better chance of a win, but I don't think that's really the way to go.
posted by edgeways at 11:51 AM on December 29, 2006

Goodness, your ex is being a jerk! You can call yourself and use any name you want - the only problem being that you need paperwork in some cases. I argued with a macho cop about this once - paperwork for the car was in my married name, my id was in my still legal maiden name - he kept telling me I had to change my name, I didn't (don't) but it would have made the situation easier if I had changed the car paperwork to match my id. (versus changing my name to match the paperwork)

I think a judge would laugh your ex out of court. If you like his last name for any reason then keep using it - a judge would probably grant you the name Hap Less Child as long as you weren't going to use it for illegal purposes.
posted by LadyBonita at 12:27 PM on December 29, 2006

I Nth you call your lawyer. He or she will clear it up for you quickly.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 1:32 PM on December 29, 2006

retired california lawyer here. your ex doesn't have a leg to stand on. he's just doing this to fuck with you, don't give him any satisfaction. one course is to not even acknowledge his communication. another is to have your lawyer send him a letter warning him, any more communication and you'll get a restraining order.
if he's still obsessed after all this time, watch your back, he might be surveilling you.
posted by bruce at 1:57 PM on December 29, 2006

As was mentioned above, continue with the process of changing your name with SS etc. If anyone bugs you, just state that you are in the process of doing so.

You're really close to the end of this thing. Just finish it up and relieve the pressure that you feel from your ex.

Regarding the original copies, screw your ex, just go to the court house and pay the 5 or 10 bucks for the originals.
posted by snsranch at 2:26 PM on December 29, 2006

Slightly (or mostly) OT, but why not just change your name?

He can (and it sounds like he will) sue you, because you can sue anyone for just about anything. Everyone is telling you to lawyer up, but wouldn't it just be easier (and cheaper) to just get the required paperwork and get it done? Retaining a lawyer, fighting it in court or getting restraining orders, etc. - it all sounds like more time/money/effort than getting your old self back.

Note: I Am Not Her Ex-Husband. Heh.
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 3:09 PM on December 29, 2006

He hasn't leg(islation) to stand on. Use whatever name you want for as long as you want (as long as you aren't pretending to be some other existing person). And congratulations on ridding yourself of the jerk.
posted by orange swan at 3:53 PM on December 29, 2006

After my second divorce, I got tired of changing my name, so I kept my second husband's last name. When I married again, I decided that I'd been known by husband #2's name for so long, there was no good reason to change it again. So I still have my second husband's last name (he doesn't care) but am married to my third husband (he does care, a little, but tough). These types of situations point out the lunacy of one sex changing their name upon marriage. Just keep the name you've got and avoid all these hassles. I sure wish I had from the beginning.
posted by Joleta at 8:18 PM on December 29, 2006

Do not worry at all. IANAL but I've seen my share of ludicrous "unauthorized use" letters used in attempts to bully people in cases where there is no actual legal recourse. They are universally understood to be bogus empty threats by anyone who am-a-lawyer. A claim of "unauthorized use of his last name" will be laughed out (or scowled out) of any court.
posted by lorimer at 3:10 AM on December 31, 2006

Response by poster: Update: Thank you everyone for putting me at ease that Mr. Ex is still an asshat, and is also an asshat who makes empty threats.

Today I got my ID changed to my maiden name, and the social security card and bank will come on Monday! They accepted my birth certificate and the divorce papers at the DMV.

I'm nearly rid of him forever!

Thanks again!
posted by haplesschild at 7:17 PM on January 3, 2007

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