Do You Legally Have to Get a New SS Card When You Get Married?

By Lisa Sefcik paralegal

Once the honeymoon is over and life's administrative minutiae kick back in, the newly wedded woman may discover that streamers of white satin ribbon have turned into a whole lot of red tape. Taking your husband's surname means a trip to the Social Security office so that the name on your Social Security card reflects your identity as a married woman. If you decide not to change your name, however, this is one "to-do" that you can scratch off of your list: You're not legally required to get a new Social Security card when you get married.

Once the honeymoon is over and life's administrative minutiae kick back in, the newly wedded woman may discover that streamers of white satin ribbon have turned into a whole lot of red tape. Taking your husband's surname means a trip to the Social Security office so that the name on your Social Security card reflects your identity as a married woman. If you decide not to change your name, however, this is one "to-do" that you can scratch off of your list: You're not legally required to get a new Social Security card when you get married.

Background

Making a legal name change after you marry has a curious history that dates back to English common law. The doctrine of coverture, also known as the "unity principle," dictated that a married woman had no separate legal existence apart and aside from that of her husband. She could not enter into contracts, claim her own wages or income, or own her own land. During America's industrial revolution, a woman's legal and social status was redefined. Not only could the "modern woman" own, sell and bequeath real property; she could file for divorce, gain custody of her own children and aspire to professions typically dominated by men. However, the doctrine of coverture has some twenty-first-century holdovers. One is that a woman traditionally, if not legally, takes her husband's last name after she marries.

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Name Change

Your Social Security number remains the same throughout your lifetime. The name attached to your Social Security number can change, however, if you go follow the right procedures. Jane Smith can take on her new husband's last name and become Jane Brown; or, as a nod to the name she was born with, she can use a hyphenated last name on her Social Security card: Jane Smith-Brown. Far less commonly, a married man may even choose to take his wife's maiden name as his own.

Procedure

If you wish to legally have your name changed after you get married, you'll need to fill out an Application for a Social Security card and take it to the nearest Social Security Administration center along with documents that prove your name change — in this case, an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate. Photocopies are unacceptable. You'll also need to present proof of your identity, such as a driver's license, state-issued identification card or United States passport.

Other Information

Changing your last name to that of your husband's isn't mandated by law, making applying for a new Social Security card unnecessary unless you strongly feel that you should. Some women still adhere to tradition, while others feel that taking their husband's surname makes things easier once children come along. Professional women who've built a reputation for themselves often view their name much as they would a brand name and refuse to change it after they marry. However, public opinion reflects more conservative views. According to a November 2011 ABC News report, results of a recent survey published in "Gender and Society" indicate that 50 percent of Americans polled believe states should pass laws that make women adopt their husbands' last name.

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Resuming Use of Maiden Name Without Divorce

References

Resources

Related articles

Can a Woman Take Back Her First Husband's Name After Divorcing a Second Husband?

Name change laws vary from state to state but, typically, any adult aged 18 or older may ask the court for a name change as long as the purpose is not to defraud creditors or flee from criminal charges. If a woman wants to use her first husband's name after divorcing her second husband, the procedure will depend on whether she has used the name before and whether the divorce has been finalized.

How to Create a New Last Name When You Marry

Although you are not required to change your last name when you marry, you may do so if you wish. The most common way is to adopt your spouse's surname when you sign the marriage certificate but other procedures and choices are available as well. For example, if you changed your name from Brown to Brown-Smith after your first marriage, you could continue to use the same name after your marriage to John Green; revert to the last name of Brown; adopt the name Brown-Green or Green-Brown; or perhaps change both spouses' names to Breen if your state allows you to create a new last name.

Legal Name Change Methods

People choose to change their names for a variety of reasons, including marriage, divorce or to share the last name of their child. The specific method you'll need to use to change your name depends on your state of residence so consult local laws before attempting to change your name. In most states, name changes are accomplished through the State Court, Superior Court or Family Court and require a petition for name change or a court order. After your name is changed through the courts and with the relevant governmental entities, you will still need to notify your bank, mortgage holder and other financial institutions of the name change.

Doing the right thing has never been easier.

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