A divorce is a formal legal action filed in a court of law. Accordingly, the parties to the action – the couple getting divorced – must be identified properly and legally on the court documents. Based upon my divorce practice dating back to several years before 1980 when Pennsylvania enacted no-fault divorce, even in this enlightened age, the vast majority of brides still take the groom’s surname (last name) as their own at the wedding ceremony and continue to use it. The bride may, for her own reasons and on her own, begin to use her former name (her maiden/birth name or previous married name) as time goes on, and this is virtually always done informally and not properly through the court. Thereafter, she may change her driver’s license, social security information, etc., all done based upon her original flawed informal decision to improperly begin the use of a previous name.
So, while various agencies, private or governmental, may let one play fast and loose with one’s name, one may not do that and remain assured that the divorce will be fully valid when final. I am very careful in my instructions to my clients, directing that if the spouse’s name was ever used at all, for any purpose, that name became the client’s legal last name and MUST be used throughout the divorce action and process. If the client had been using another name, my mail to the client should be sent in the client’s correct, legal name, but “IN CARE OF” the name which the client had been using. Otherwise, the client may not receive mail from me. And, yes, I must use the postal service for the divorce documents as the court and the law require original, not electronic, signatures.
Once the divorce is final, it is a simple, inexpensive matter to re-take a prior name and legally and properly resume its use. It is also possible to re-take a prior name during the pendency of the divorce; however, doing so is not recommended as many records and documents would have to be corrected or updated and that is neither easy nor cheap.
It is possible that no one will care should one file a divorce using the wrong name, but later in life doing that could come back to cause major problems… such as having difficulty collecting a pension or Social Security. My advice? Just do it correctly and legally, to begin with. The divorce will be final before you know it and you may then re-take your prior name legally and safely, secure in the knowledge that you will have no problems in the future due to the improper use of the wrong name.