It used to be that whenever a couple got married in Atlanta, the wife took the husband’s last name. This is not the case in every marriage these days, but it is still common for spouses to share a last name.
But when divorce happens, the spouse who changed their name has a decision to make. Will they go back to their maiden name or keep their married name? For people with a last name that is prominent in the community, the decision is not as easy as you might think. Especially if the name is associated with a successful family-owned business.
Change your name back — or not?
Many divorcing spouses are eager to go back to their former last name. Their married name is a reminder of an unhappy time in their lives, and they are ready to start fresh.
But others have established themselves under their married name. They may be known professionally by that name and want to avoid confusion among their clients by going back to a name they have not used in years, possibly decades. One prominent example could be the impending divorce between Bill and Melinda Gates.
What is your name worth to you?
From the other spouse’s perspective, their last name could be on the door of a well-known family business. They may not want their ex to continue to enjoy the fame and reputation earned by their family.
One option is to use a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement to determine the fate of the surnames before divorce occurs. Another may be to treat the name, or at least the goodwill associated with it, as a marital asset. Business goodwill is often treated as an asset belonging to both spouses, though no court has considered the possible value of a name’s goodwill.
What to do about your last name may not be the most important part of your divorce, but it can matter a great deal. Working with your attorney can help you identify any legal aspects of your decision.