Name Change

Greensboro family law attorneys deal frequently with individuals who would like to change their name following a divorce. North Carolina General Statute Section 50-12 defines when a woman or a man may change his or her surname (last name) at the time of divorce. Note that the statute itself speaks in terms of male and female, which is why Woodruff Family Law Group is addressing it in this manner. Given recent US Supreme Court action in the same sex arena, stay tuned for perhaps an update on this statue.

If a woman gets a divorce, she has two ways under Section 50-12 to change her name. She can apply as part of the divorce, or in the alternative, she can apply to the Clerk of Court of the county where she was divorced. Most Clerks of Court can be found at the Courthouse. For example, a woman from Reidsville (who was divorced in Wentworth) could go to the Clerk’s office at the courthouse in Wentworth and make the application without an attorney. It is, however, simple for Woodruff Family Law Group to do this as part of your divorce, and there is no real additional charge except for the small fee to be paid to the Clerk; it is simply part of the divorce paperwork. Sometimes, however, a woman may not be sure what name she wants to use after divorce, and she makes the change later; in that instance, the Clerk’s office is your best choice.

Under Section 50-12, a woman cannot simply take any last name she wants to if she is changing her last name; there are limits. She can use one of three prior last names. First, the last name of a prior ex-husband with whom she has children, provided that ex-husband is still living. For example, Judy Johnson of Lexington became Judy Pickett at her first wedding and she has two living children with Mr. Pickett. At the time of her divorce from Mr. Pickett, Judy changed her name back to her maiden name – Johnson. Three years later, she decides she wants her name changed back to Pickett. Mr. Pickett is still alive, so she can go to the Clerk’s office in the county where she and Mr. Pickett were divorced and apply to become Judy Pickett. The two other prior last names available are the woman’s birth name – referred to as a maiden name – and the last name of a prior husband who is deceased. It is interesting to note, that if the ex is dead, you can take his name back regardless of whether there were children involved.

Interestingly, men do not have the same options available under Section 50-12. A man getting a divorce can only change his last name if he changed his name at the wedding and he wants to resume using his pre-marital name. For example, if John Smith of Greensboro became John Jones-Smith at the wedding, John can ask in the divorce or apply to the Clerk for use of the name John Smith again.

Woodruff Family Law Group will help you obtain the name you desire as part of your divorce package. It is important to give to your lawyer exactly how you want the name to read after the divorce.

There are many considerations in whether to change your last name and when to do it. Changing your name also involves changing a lot of other paperwork, such as your social security record, your driver’s license, your passport, and your utilities. Stay tuned for a Blog by Carolyn Woodruff at on these name change considerations.