In American culture, assuming your new husband's family name when you get married is an exciting rite of passage. It's something many women longed for as young girls--creatively covering notebooks with signatures, adding the surname of the latest crush. When you sign your new legal name for the first time, you feel grown up, like a proper married woman.
I recall Jennifer Aniston's story when she met with her stationary designer who was preparing her wedding invitations. Jennifer stated that she wanted glossy new personal stationary, proudly bearing her name in big bold letters: JENNIFER PITT. Unfortunately, we all know how that turned out.
For some women, going back to their maiden name after divorce is transformational, almost cathartic, especially if you have a particularly complicated last name (like Schwarzenegger...). Returning to your maiden name may help to close the chapter on your married life and you can go forward by going back. And, just like getting married and getting divorced, changing your name is a legal matter.
In Massachusetts, for example, if you want to change your name pursuant to your divorce, you will want to ask your attorney to request the court to grant you a formal name change when he/she files the actual Joint Petition for Divorce (if it is uncontested) or Complaint for Divorce (if it is contested). Other than paying your attorney's fee, there are no additional court costs or filing fees if the request is included in the original Petition or Complaint. If you wait to make the request before the divorce is finalized, you will need to file a separate motion for the court to grant you a name change. Further, if you petition to have your name changed after the divorce is finalized, then you must pay a filing fee (currently $165.00) in addition to your attorney's fees. Every state is different in terms of filing fees and procedure, so it is important that you check with your attorney or state's court system website for more information.
Remember, you do not have to change your name upon divorce. You can keep your married name forever and if you have children, it may just be easier for you all to share the same last name. But if you are going to change your name, to save time, attorney fees, and court costs, do it at the beginning of the divorce. In addition, once your name change has been granted, be sure to notify your payroll department, the Social Security Administration (to get a new card bearing your new name) and the Department of Motor Vehicles (to update your driver's license) in your state. Maintaining name consistency through your records will ease the transition.