Forcing the Issue
May 1, 2007 5:36 PM   Subscribe

Can my ex-husband force me to change my name back to my maiden last name?

I have been divorced for about a year now and my ex is getting re-married this summer. Since his engagement, he has asked me to change my name back and has even gone so far as to send my child support check made out to my former name which I obviously can't cash since I am still using my old name. What are my options here?
posted by dagnyduquette to Law & Government (65 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For any legal question: Where do you live? Where were the marriage papers and divorce papers filed?

I'm not a lawyer, but I can't imagine any way that he can compel you to change your name. And if he's making the checks out to someone else's name, then he's not paying the support, so you should be able to get a court to compel him to make out the checks to your legal name. I would consult with a lawyer and put together a letter to him explaining this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:41 PM on May 1, 2007

Are you sure you can't cash the check? Your bank might let you, since it should be obvious it's to you.
posted by Many bubbles at 5:42 PM on May 1, 2007

If he's sending checks to the incorrect name, deliberately to coerce you and meanwhile them useless to you and your child, I'd presume this is some violation of the child support order...
posted by jerseygirl at 5:43 PM on May 1, 2007

I know someone who just changed their name to honor their grandfather who passed away.

Point being - you can have whatever name you want if you have good reason to. You can't be forced to change it.

If anything, he's probably breaking the law by not making cashable child support checks out to you. Your best option is to talk to a lawyer, but on its face it seems you probably have a pretty easy case here if all you want to ensure is that he makes out checks in your name that you intend to keep.

IANAL, of course.
posted by twiggy at 5:43 PM on May 1, 2007

Slim chance in hell, even if he takes you to court.

2 options, court or child support enforcement. The state enforcement will take a cut if you use them but they use their lawyers and their judges.
posted by IronWolve at 5:43 PM on May 1, 2007

no, he can't make you change your name.

i imagine banks would let you cash checks made out to your maiden name if you have your name-change paperwork with you.

if your bank won't let you, then your ex is in violation of your child-support agreement. call your lawyer.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:44 PM on May 1, 2007

I don't think that he can compel you to change your name. IANAL, but the only somewhat compelling reason I can think of is if his name has a particular value associated with it (like Trump, for example).

Get the advice of a lawyer - the check thing is just plain dickish. I imagine that if your bank won't cash them, most states have laws for creating a legal alias/assumed name/dba, which will allow you to cash those checks without changing your name.
posted by plinth at 5:52 PM on May 1, 2007


But yeah: it's your legal name, whether he likes it or not. Last I checked, surnames aren't copyrightable.

And yeah, if he's making out child support checks in such a way that you are unable to cash them, then presumably he's in violation of the child support orders. (IANAL!)
posted by scody at 5:53 PM on May 1, 2007

Not quite the same thing, but my father makes checks out to a married name that I never assumed . (I kept my maiden name. This has been going on for 30 years-- you'd think he'd figure it out) I never had a problem cashing them, as I could demonstrate that the person on the checks was in fact me.
posted by nax at 5:56 PM on May 1, 2007

And actually, I assume you want to keep the name because of the kids, but frankly, my kids and I have different last names and yet they seem to understand that I am their mother. You might just want to give the jerk his name back. Better yet, change the kids' last names to your maiden name! That'd teach him.
posted by nax at 5:58 PM on May 1, 2007 [4 favorites]

I can cash checks with my maiden name no problem, BUT in your case don't. Give it to your lawyer instead.
posted by trishthedish at 6:02 PM on May 1, 2007

you can have whatever name you want if you have good reason to

I'm pretty sure in America you don't need a good reason. You can change your name to Billclinton McRetard Jolie if you want, and no one can sue you.
posted by mdn at 6:20 PM on May 1, 2007 [4 favorites]

As I understand it (IANAL!):
  1. it's the intent that counts for a check, not the technical detail of what's written on it. This doesn't mean that any bank is obliged to cash the check, but you're not committing fraud by trying to cash the checks. If you can convince the bank you're on the up-and-up, they might be perfectly happy to cash checks to whatever names people use for you.
  2. in (most of? all of?) the US, there's no such thing as a One True Legal Name, there're just some names by which you are known. Some peoples' ideas of your name may carry more practical weight — the IRS, or the department of motor vehicles, or the hospital of your birth, say — and in some states the DMV will refuse to give you a license in a given name if they don't like your documentation. But that doesn't mean it's not your name.
I'm interested to hear if my understanding is incorrect, of course.

So yeah: don't bother changing your name. Try to cash the check, and if your bank doesn't accept it, then seek legal means to force your ex to send you the payment in a form you can use.

(Unless you want to change your name, of course.)
posted by hattifattener at 6:22 PM on May 1, 2007

We have a friend whose husband took her name when they married. It was part of their divorce settlement that he would stop using her last name when they divorced. He hasn't done it, and there's nothing she can really do about it, but it's in the legal papers anyway.

Re: cashing checks with a former name: you should be able to do it, as others have said. My father was grievously offended when I legally changed my name from my birth name to one I preferred, and he still writes checks to my old name (weirdly, he's not too offended to send me money from time to time). My bank told me to endorse the check with both signatures, and I've been doing that for years: Signing my old name and then my new one.
posted by not that girl at 6:40 PM on May 1, 2007

I think you can keep his name, but, without knowing the particulars, I think it's kind of shitty that you are.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:49 PM on May 1, 2007

No, you can name yourself whatever you want. Tell your ex to fuck off. You could make trouble for him in court for making the checks out improperly, but best to just take the cash. People get so petty over this stuff, I feel for you, but take the high road and you will feel better.
posted by caddis at 6:54 PM on May 1, 2007

There's lots of proof that you don't need a good reason to change a name to anything your little heart desires.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:54 PM on May 1, 2007

MegoSteve, it's not shitty if she's had the name for a long time. What, he owns that particular surname? Don't be silly.
posted by NationalKato at 6:57 PM on May 1, 2007

MegoSteve: No, she's keeping her name. The one she's used for the last however many years.
posted by mendel at 7:10 PM on May 1, 2007

Seconding what others have said about the checks...

You CAN cash them (or at least you can deposit them)... Simply endorse them with your maiden name and, underneath, secondarily endorse them with your married name (if that's the name on your bank account)... Your bank won't (or shouldn't) refuse them as a deposit.
posted by amyms at 7:11 PM on May 1, 2007

I think you can keep his name, but, without knowing the particulars, I think it's kind of shitty that you are.

WTF? It is entirely common -- not to mention perfectly legal and ethical -- for a woman to change her name upon marrying.* Do you really think that MILLIONS of women in the U.S. alone are obliged to "give back" their names upon divorce? Do you think men "own" their names, but women don't?

*yes, yes, some men do it too, and many women don't change their names in the first place when they marry.
posted by scody at 7:20 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

"I think it's kind of shitty that you are"

What's shitty is that you assume she is keeping it to offend her ex. There are many reasons someone would keep a surname. I intend to keep my husbands if we ever seperate due to the fact that I have always hated my birth name.
posted by Sufi at 7:22 PM on May 1, 2007

MegoSteve -- it's not like she's keeping his dog. It's a name, everyone gets to use it. And don't you think having the same surname would make life a little easier for her kid(s)?
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:22 PM on May 1, 2007

Write "FOR DEPOSIT ONLY" in the endorsement section, then sign your name and account number. Problem solved. Happens to us regularly as we have multiple incorporated names, and multiple bank accounts.
posted by jefe303 at 7:27 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

If Prince could change his name to an unpronounceable symbol, for all legal purposes (that WAS a legal name change, right?), then it follows that you can legally call yourself anything you want. He can change his name to Dagnyduquette if he wants. The law doesn't care what you call yourself.
posted by autojack at 7:29 PM on May 1, 2007

What, he owns that particular surname? Don't be silly.

I apologize for the derail, but had she never met him or been married to him, she wouldn't have had that name. It's not like she spontaneously decided to take the name arbitrarily, and he was a stranger that happened to have that name and is getting angry about it. She took his name when she was married to him; seems to me that, traditionally, she'd stop using it when she's no longer married to him. I'll grant that the law says she can keep it if she wants, though, but it's an odd choice to an old fashioned person such as myself.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:30 PM on May 1, 2007

Traditionally, she'd keep the name until either death or marrying again. Schmuck.
posted by genghis at 7:37 PM on May 1, 2007

She can keep it for sure.

But it does feel a little creepy.. like you still have feeling for him, therefor keeping the name that you took the same time you took the marriage vows.
posted by lundman at 7:40 PM on May 1, 2007

Wow, the manipulative things people do to one another never cease to amaze me.

Why not legally change your middle name to your maiden name. That's a common tradition, and it'll likely decrease the hassle at the bank.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:42 PM on May 1, 2007

She took his name when she was married to him; seems to me that, traditionally, she'd stop using it when she's no longer married to him.

I'm sorry but your concept of "old-fashioned" is bizarre. My mother divorced in 1977, and kept her married name, primarily because that was also the surname of my sister and I. This was the case of most of my friends (if not all) at that time who had divorced parents. In fact, I would say that keeping one's married name is much more common than changing back to a maiden name.
posted by kimdog at 7:43 PM on May 1, 2007

Sheesh. Women get a ration of crap no matter what they do. It's your name now, and you may legally keep it (IANAL). The ex- may give you a hard time if you cash a check improperly. Document everything - photocopy the checks, track when they arrive, etc. Judges don't look kindly on game playing.

Meanwhile, if it's that rancorous, the kids may need lots of extra reassurance.
posted by theora55 at 8:03 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

IWAPFADF (I was a paralegal for a divorce firm) and it was often mentioned in the dissolution paperwork whether the wife intended to change her name back to her maiden name. However, it wasn't a legal binding thing - it just made it easier for the wife should anyone question her what her name was - she could simply show them the decree of dissolution with the name change statement in it.

More than not, the wife kept her married name, mostly because of the children, which I think is a noble thing, not a shitty thing.

She's not hurting anyone by keeping a name that she may have adopted for the past 50 years. My aunt, divorced after 5 years of marriage, and later came out as a lesbian still carries her former husband's name.

It's a name.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:05 PM on May 1, 2007

Well, kimdog, my parents divorced in '74 and my mom used her maiden name afterwards, so I guess my opinion's been colored by that.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:07 PM on May 1, 2007

She took his name when she was married to him; seems to me that, traditionally, she'd stop using it when she's no longer married to him.

What "seems" to be tradition to you, in fact, isn't. My grandmother, for example, divorced her first husband (my mother's biological father) in 1942 and kept his name until marrying her second husband (my mother's adoptive father), at which point she (and my mom) took her second husband's name.
posted by scody at 8:08 PM on May 1, 2007

But it does feel a little creepy.. like you still have feeling for him, therefor keeping the name that you took the same time you took the marriage vows.

From what I can tell, her ex-husband still has the name HE said his marriage vows with. Or should he change his name to Johnny McNotMarriedtoDagnyduquette so no one thinks he still has feelings?

Seriously, my mom has been divorced from my father for 17 years, and still has his name. Changing your name is a hassle, don't let anyone force you if you don't want to.
posted by almostmanda at 8:11 PM on May 1, 2007

She can keep it for sure.

But it does feel a little creepy..

Creepy? how? Creepy is her ex trying to determine her name. He can just go f himself. He is not in control of her name. He needs to get a life.
posted by caddis at 8:14 PM on May 1, 2007

Same advice as always. Contact an actual lawyer in your jurisdiction. This stuff is too important not to. You need to teach him a lesson right now that he will not forget in order to induce future compliance.

I am not your lawyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:15 PM on May 1, 2007

This burns me up. Are we women property? Megosteve's last name should succumb to Darwin's law soon enough, hopefully.
I changed my name when I married into my exhusband's family, and we created a family of (our last name) children.
He left after 22 years and there was no way I wanted to change my name AGAIN, because then what, if I ever remarry I should change it AGAIN?! Hyphenate?
I tell the young girls to keep their maiden names.
Just listen to the words- maiden- surname- I have a problem with a society that expects women to take a husband's name. The rate of divorce is so high. I feel like some kind of property being transferred from one man's line to the next (father, husband, ...). Sheesh.
Doesn't this bother any other women out there?
Of course, I have no answer to the problem. Lineage and all that. I know some latin countries use maternal and paternal last names but their names are so loooooong. Why don't we just use a numbering system already.
posted by bkiddo at 8:18 PM on May 1, 2007

I'm just astounded that anyone would call a woman "creepy" and "shitty" for not changing her name. What the hell? Obviously, everyone has a right to their own opinion, but when someone's asking for advice here in the green, why would you instead take the opportunity to tell a stranger on the Internet that they were "shitty"?

Metafilter: the inability to just keep it to your own damn self.
posted by smashingstars at 8:25 PM on May 1, 2007

n-thing that keeping your married name is not creepy at all. Why would it be?
posted by lalex at 8:29 PM on May 1, 2007

Wow, has this thread gotten derailed...

While you can cash probably those checks, it can become a pain depending on the bank. I had a friend who went through several banks before finding one that wouldn't hassle him about the various (legitimate) names and DBA's that he used.

And of course it's plain insulting and I really have zero sympathy for ex's who play games like this.

I would tell him to write the checks in your legal name or you will take him to court for evading child support. If you have a friendly relationship with a lawyer, get it on their letterhead.
posted by Ookseer at 8:30 PM on May 1, 2007

And you can tell him that if it bothers him so much to have the same name as you, he should just change his. I mean, he's getting re-married this summer, seems like a perfect time....
posted by Many bubbles at 8:31 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Doesn't this bother any other women out there?

Oh, sure. When I was married, I got criticized by certain family members for not taking my (now ex-)husband's name because I was displaying -- quote! -- "an unfeminine attachment to my maiden name." I'm sure if I ever get remarried, I'll get criticized all over again whether or not I change my name on the second go-around. Women can't win on this score -- there is always, always someone who'll give us shit for taking/not taking a husband's name upon marriage, and then (as this thread attests) someone to give us shit for keeping/changing it upon divorce.

posted by scody at 8:32 PM on May 1, 2007

[METATALK for anything that isn't an answer to the OPs qustion, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:34 PM on May 1, 2007

IANAL. Something similar happened to my friend. Her bank told her that she can cash cheques under her maiden name, since (in Canada) that's still her "legal" name, just as her married name is also her legal name. I imagine your birth certificate still shows your maiden name.

If your bank balks at cashing them, endorse the cheque with your maiden name signature and write "Please pay to ". Endorse it with your married name signature.

However, make copies of the cheques and give them to your lawyer. I wouldn't just hand over the cheques, as this will delay payment and I'm sure you'd like the money sooner.

posted by acoutu at 8:34 PM on May 1, 2007

Re the check issue:
I would tell him I consider this a non-payment and if I didn't get a new check he would end up in court.
Said the right way, this would be very effective. You may have to follow through. A good lawyer can write one or two very effective letters to imlore him to imply for about 500.00.
My guess it the new wife doesn't want a Mrs. Him the first.
My ex deposits the child support to my bank account himself. I made sure we wouldn't have to deal directly with each other every month over anything, especially money.
I'm pretty sure you can get a court order for him to have to direct deposit (or face garnishing) your child's support money.
posted by bkiddo at 8:39 PM on May 1, 2007

Imlore to imly = Implore to comply. Must be the P key.
posted by bkiddo at 8:41 PM on May 1, 2007

My parents divorced when I was 5 (I'm now 24) and my mum still uses his name.

I married last year and changed my name, but with some things they just made it so hard to change it that I left them with my maiden name.

I don't know where you live, but I'm sure in Australia you could open another account in your maiden name and cash the cheques in there. To be honest, that's what I'd do, just to piss him off. What can he do then?

I just think that might be a better alternative to going to court. It won't cost you anything and your child won't have to see the nasty side of your ex.

Ranglin's Missus.
posted by ranglin at 9:04 PM on May 1, 2007

My father tried the exact same thing, but my mother had no trouble depositing the checks. She never complained about it to him, and he finally gave it up (after about fifteen years) and now addresses her respectfully.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:13 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

My previous reply was deleted by the moderators so let me try again:

No, he cannot.

And please read the replies of people like Megosteve, and recognize that some people will be unapologetically judgmental about your decision.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:59 PM on May 1, 2007

You can use any name you darn well please, and he doesn't get any more of a say in it than a bunch of random folks on the internet do.

In the US, you can deposit any check made out to you, even if it is to a different name. If I sent you a check made out to dagnyduquette, you would explain that it is another name that you use, and most banks would have you sign the back "dagnyduquette" and sign the name your account bears under that. It is fairly usual for women to use multiple last names, so this should not be a problem with your bank.

IANAL, so no clue if this would affect any other child support issues you may have.
posted by yohko at 10:33 PM on May 1, 2007

I agree with all of those who have said that the old fashioned way is NOT to go back to your maiden name. My mother divorced in 1978 and since she didn't remarry she still has his last name. That's the old fashioned etiquette she was raised to follow so she has never even thought to change her last name even though she hasn't been on speaking terms with my dad for years.

I also agree with those who say you should sign it for deposit only and then just put it in the account. It should go right through. At least, I've done that before & it's worked. (I have a first name that I never ever use.) Just make sure you sign it with the name that's written on the check.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:20 PM on May 1, 2007

traditionally, she'd stop using it when she's no longer married to him. I'll grant that the law says she can keep it if she wants, though, but it's an odd choice to an old fashioned person such as myself.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:30 PM on May 1

Is it traditional and old-fashioned and all-American to attempt to compel a woman to change her name by fucking with her child support?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:37 PM on May 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

The argument he has about the name may or may not be valid. He has no right to compel you in any way. Fucking with a court order, which probably specifies your legal name, is stupid on his part and could fuck up his rights in the future by making him look like an overbearing asshole to some future judge.

He has no way to force you to change your name in any way. If you have good reasons (to yourself) to keep the name, keep it.

I'm so far from a lawyer it's funny.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:36 AM on May 2, 2007

Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses.

The reasons why I am hesitant to change my name is that I simply want to have the same last name as my child and have come to be known by my married name in my field of work.

I can assure everyone that I am not harboring any feelings of love for my ex, nor am I eager to go to court.
posted by dagnyduquette at 7:33 AM on May 2, 2007

Change your first name to be the same as his new wife.
That'll really piss him off.
posted by kc8nod at 7:52 AM on May 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Just because you continue to be known as Jane Jones Smith does not mean you are still Mrs. John Smith. When you get divorced, you are no longer entitled to call yourself the latter, but there is nothing wrong with the former. By dissolving the marriage, you are dissolving the connotation associated with the name.

IANAL, but I'm pretty sure anyone can change their name to anything they want, and any time, for any reason (costs and procedure would probably vary based on the reason). Even if you cave to his demands and change your name back to Jane Jones, there is nothing stopping you from changing it back to Smith just because you like the name.

I remember reading a news story about how some solider changed his name to Optimus Prime. If he can be optimus prime, you can be Jane Smith. If your husband and his bride-to-be can't handle it, they are more than welcome to change their names to one that isn't associated with his former marriage.
posted by necessitas at 8:27 AM on May 2, 2007

by the way, I wasn't suggesting that you change your name to Jones and then back to Smith, I was just pointing out that his focus on the same was really petty and pointless
posted by necessitas at 8:28 AM on May 2, 2007

Yeah, I mean you could have changed your name to the same name as you have now out of coincidence. Is he going to go after everyone with the same last name? You can choose any name you want and I cannot see how your ex has any right to demand that you drop the surname. Its a name for fucks sake! IANAL
posted by ob at 8:47 AM on May 2, 2007

IANAL, but I don't think he's got a leg to stand on with trying to get you to change your name.

And with cashing checks, my grandmother writes checks to my mother using my mother's maiden name. The bank is fine with depositing them. There used to it by now. My parents have been married for 33 years!

and I agree that you ex should go f- himself with a traffic cone.
posted by Attackpanda at 9:19 AM on May 2, 2007

geeze... re; the check. Pick up the phone call your bank tell them you have received a check made out to you with your maiden name will there be any hassle about depositing/cashing it?

Re: the name thing, change it or not, it is up to you. If you are even thinking of changing it because of his pressure ask if he is willing to pay time and expenses for you to do so as it would wholly be a service to him, not something you would do on your own.

fwiw he sounds like a real dickhead
posted by edgeways at 10:03 AM on May 2, 2007

The bank will be fine. I use my middle name socially, and I changed my last name a few years ago; this could cause all kinds of confusion at the bank, but it doesn't. I've received and deposited checks in the name of Firstname Previousname, Middlename Lastname, Nickname Lastname, and so on.

To make sure that this mess of names was going to work out for me, I talked to a bank manager. Now there are a series of annotations to my account file that note that I do business under those various names. Iirc, I came prepared with my birth and marriage certificates but didn't actually need them. And, apparently, bank managers get asked this question all the time. You will likely raise no eyebrows at all if you go in and enquire about depositing checks under your previous name.

Changing your name is a big pain, and I wouldn't do it twice. Your ex can go take a flying leap.
posted by sculpin at 10:14 AM on May 2, 2007

Although others are probably right that you will be able to cash these with a little explanation, I think you should try to make you ex see reason as well. That is, you should make it clear that first, you're not changing your name, second, it is for two simple practical reasons - maintaining the same name as your child and being known professionally by that name. While this is always controversial advice even if you have not intention of taking it to court, it might not hurt to at least make a nod towards the legal issue, i.e. in asking him to please quit with the mislabeled checks you could cite a reason such as "I would rather not get into the legal issue of your knowingly making the CS checks out to the what is not my legal name" or something similar. The fact that this action is not just mean-spirited and immature but quite possibly against the rules in some sense may not have really gotten through. Whether this is a good idea or not depends on your ex, who you know best. But do inform him, formally and in writing, that you are not going to agree to a name change and ask him to send checks to your legal name, and keep a record of the request just in case it ever did get unavoidably into court.
posted by nanojath at 10:48 AM on May 2, 2007

If he could show the court a good reason for forcing you to change your name (fraudulent behavior) they might order you to do so. At least in Tennessee, there have been courts who have balked at allowing the ex-wife to revert to their maiden name when children are involved much less forcing the ex-husband to force her to do so.. I don't think preventing the mother from reverting as her own choice is so much the case any more but in the past I believe it could be difficult. Sounds like the new wife has an issue.
posted by Carbolic at 12:55 PM on May 2, 2007

Depends on the state, but if you're in California, you can tell him to sod off.

My mother picked her new last name out of the phone book. Another divorced friend was about to do that, but went back to her mom's name instead.

If he's writing checks just to be a jerk, throw the matter back into court and see if you can get the court to intervene. Sometimes a court saying "be nice or we'll just take the money right out of your paycheck" goes a long way.
posted by drstein at 6:56 PM on May 2, 2007

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