In a change of pace from my last few posts about California residential Landlord-Tenant law, I’m going to talk about family law, specifically the question of how does one change their name back to their maiden name after a divorce. The “after a divorce” part is important. If you want to change your name generally (e.g. it’s hard to spell, hard to pronounce, etc.), you can, but the process is different.
Changing your name after a divorce is, in my opinion, easier than just changing your name in general. There are two ways to do the “after a divorce” name change. The first is when you ask for the name change as part of the case itself. If you’re the one who filed the case, you’re the Petitioner and you can ask for your name to be changed as part of your petition (see box 11(b) on California Judicial Council form FL-100). If you’re not the party who filed, you’re the Respondent, but you can still ask for your name to be changed as part of your response (see box 11(b) on California Judicial Council form FL-120). If you’ve done either of these, the court can grant your name change back to your maiden name as part of the divorce decree or judgment. The divorce judgment is California Judicial Council form FL-180 and the name change is specifically in box 4(f).
If you’ve done your name change as part of your case, what you need to d
o to change your name with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the Social Security Administration, etc is get a certified copy of your divorce judgment and follow whatever process the agency you’re dealing with specifies for a name change.
If, however, you didn’t request to have your name changed as part of your case, don’t despair. You can still get your name changed with California Judicial Council form FL-395. The form itself is used all over California, but the precise details of how to file it with the court will likely vary from county to county. You can always bring it to the courthouse in person, of course. When I’ve done that in Santa Clara County, the court processes it while I’m waiting and I don’t have to come back to pick the form up later. Obviously, I don’t know what county you’re in so I can’t guarantee that your courthouse will do the same thing. It is entirely possible you might have to come back to pick up your papers. Giving the court clerk a self-addressed stamped envelope might save you from having to make a return trip as the court can just mail you your completed form. One can also mail the FL-395 to the courthouse for processing, but the turnaround time for that can vary. If you’ve moved since your divorce case was done, though, doing it by mail might be your only choice.
The only thing I can recommend from the comfort of my office is inform you about the form FL-395 and tell you to go to whatever family court in California your case was originally done at and ask what their preferred method of processing the form FL-395 is. Doing a name change after a divorce with the FL-395 is a very common request. It is possible the family court where your divorce case is has a packet on how to do the name change. Here’s the one from the Superior Court in Sacramento County.
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