Written by attorney Clifford Chance Rohde

Divorce and changing your name in New York

After divorce in New York, can you change your last name back to what it was before you got married?

You may have changed your last name when you got married to take on your spouse's surname. Or perhaps you and your spouse each changed your surnames to a hyphenated (or not) combination. There is no requirement that you do so, but if you did (and many people do) what happens after divorce?

The simple answer is that you have the right to go back to a last name you previously used. Under Section 240-A of New York's Domestic Relations Law, any divorce (or annulment) decree or judgment must contain a

provision that each party may resume the use of his or her premarriage surname or any other former surname.

If you have mulitiple prior surnames, you have a choice. If you only have one prior surname, you are limited to that one. If you would like to change your surname to something brand new, you may petition the court to do so, but under separate provisions of law (See New York Civil Rights Law, Article 6).

Must you change your name to a prior surname? No. The statute is permissive. You may continue to use your current surname.

Note, too, that the statute applies in situations of divorce and annulment. It does not apply to separation without divorce.

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