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Ex-etiquette: Your last name is also hers, legally

Q: Here’s an ex-etiquette question for you. My ex and I were married for eight years and have been apart for four. I had no problem letting her keep my last name after we divorced because her son from a previous marriage uses the same name, but now she’s remarrying and she doesn’t want to change her name to the woman’s last name she will be marrying. She wants her fiance to take her name instead. I told her I thought that was disrespectful and didn’t like that, but she doesn’t see it that way and refuses. Do you know of anything I can do to ensure my last name isn’t used by the woman she is going to marry? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: After a divorce a woman is free to keep her ex-husband’s last name, go back to her maiden name or choose a completely new name. Although name changes are controlled by state law, most states allow individuals to change their name pretty easily. That means when you and your wife married, your name became her name. She didn’t borrow it and now has to give it back. It’s hers free and clear and it has been for 12 years. When she marries, if she and her fiance want to go by her name, legally they can.

Ironically, it wouldn’t be that easy if your ex was marrying a guy and he wanted to change his name to hers. Many states have specific requirements for men to change their names. According to my research, only six states currently allow either partner to do a change of name under equal conditions when they marry. Those states are: North Dakota, New York, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts and Georgia. Complete double standard. It seems the law has not caught up with current social requirements.

The bigger question is why is this a problem for you. Many women keep their ex’s name after divorce when they have children to ensure that they have the same last name as their kids. Since you didn’t have a problem with this when you broke up and even noted that you understood it because she had a child who used that last name, I can only surmise it’s because she’s marrying a woman and it offends you that her eventual wife will also use your name.

With such a touchy subject, I don’t want to speculate further if that’s the truth. I know very little about your issue. I can only say that society is becoming less conventional by the second and things like this can be difficult for some to accept. But, if you use love and acceptance as your guide, then you’re using good ex-etiquette. Just about all the rules of good ex-etiquette apply here, but the rule I really want you to consider is rule #7, “Use empathy when problem solving.” Put yourself in their shoes. Your name represents who you are, and although you think of it as yours, legally it’s also hers and based on that, it’s not surprising that she and her partner may want to share it.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.