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Your surname after marriage – to change or not to change?

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In this regular column, Stowe Family Law solicitors answer readers’ questions on different legal issues.  Today’s topic goes to Amy Foweather, a solicitor in our Harrogate office. If you have a question, send it to [email protected] and we’ll choose one to be featured.

Whether or not to change your surname upon marriage is a subject which sparks a lot of debate. Whilst it is traditional, most people also assume that it is a legal requirement. Is this a tradition that will be upheld for future generations or is it outdated? Will the pressure of social norms keep the tradition going?  As I plan my own wedding, I find myself battling with this decision.

Whilst it may be traditional, the practice has not been universally adopted by all religions or cultures and it is not a legal requirement. Indeed, Greece enacted a law in 1993 that all women have to keep their birth name and this is not negotiable.  This provides an alternative approach to that currently taken in Britain. The change for Greece came about as women were leaving the home, seeking their own educations, professions and income.

Of course, a surname provides a personal identity and it naturally follows that many people may want to keep their own. This is  particularly the case for those who have worked hard to build a professional reputation associated with that identity. Other reasons for people wanting to retain their own surname can be varied and for everyone there are different circumstances to consider. For example, keeping the same name as children from a former relationship or adopting their spouse’s name for children of the marriage.

Whilst it is understandable that some people will respect and uphold the tradition, for many it is now a difficult dilemma that requires much thought and discussion. Do people adopt the tradition or keep their own personal and professional identity?

Everyone is entitled to a different opinion on the subject but the main thing to note is that there is a choice. We have recently received several enquiries on the subject which have been summarised below.

How do I adopt my husband’s surname following marriage?

Once married, this is very simple. You can start using your spouse’s surname straight away. Steps should be taken to provide a copy of your marriage certificate to change formal and legal documents, such as bank accounts, passports, your driving license etc.  A copy of the marriage certificate should be evidence enough as you have the right to change your name.

This also applies to same sex marriages where one party is adopting the surname of their spouse.

It should be noted that some people choose to change their name legally but still informally retain their name for work purposes.

Do I have to take my spouse’s name?

Put simply, you don’t! There is no legal requirement to do so. You can be legally married and still retain your surname.

What are the other options regarding change of name following marriage?

Whilst unusual, some people choose to adopt the wife’s surname as the family name. Again, this is a personal decision, but it is completely feasible. Similarly, in same sex marriages the parties can choose to adopt either party’s surname or keep their own.

Another option is to use the surname of both parties. This could be done by either hyphenating the surnames or by using one of the surnames as a middle name.

It should be noted that if you make a change in your name that goes beyond simply adopting the surname of the spouse this will require a legal change of name deed.

Can we change our family name all together?

Some couples may decide to adopt a different surname altogether. Again, this is a personal decision and is easily done. Both parties will require a change of name deed.

What happens with my name if I divorce?

Following a divorce there is no legal requirement to either revert to your birth name or retain your spouse’s name. Again, this is a personal decision and everyone has different factors and circumstances to consider. If you choose to revert to your birth name then you can do so following the conclusion of your divorce. A copy of your decree absolute should be sufficient evidence to formally change your name with your bank, passport office, the DVLA and so forth.

In summary, you can change your name to whatever you want as long as it is done legally. Getting married or being married does not change the legal right to choose your own name. My own decision? Still pending!

A related topic on which we regularly receive questions is changing children’s names. This is a slightly more complicated area and it will therefore be covered separately.

If you have any questions or queries about changing your name or your children’s name, please contact us and we will do our best to help.

Amy is a solicitor at the Stowe Family Law office in Beverley. She specialises in a wide range of family cases, including divorce, separation, cohabitation, adoption, pre- and postnuptial agreements and matters involving children.

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  1. Lisa Riseley says:

    Hi I have read the above but I am not sure I fit into these categories. My dilema is that I got married and took my husbands surname, but have not changed my name on anything and continue to use my maiden name in the same way I always have. Will this have legal complications.

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