Keeping ex-spouses' surnames after divorce

During the course of a marriage, it is somewhat common for one of the spouses, traditionally the wife, to adopt the other spouse’s surname(s), adding them to their own name. If this happens and the couple later divorces, there might be a legitimate interest in retaining the surnames acquired through marriage as occurred in the case of well-known “celebrities” like singer Tina Turner, actress Susan Sarandon, and businesswoman Ivana Trump, who chose to retain their last names because they were recognized in their respective fields based on the names derived from their marriage.

Unlike in the case of the death of one of the spouses or legal separation of property and persons, where each spouse retains the surnames of the other, divorce immediately results in the loss of surnames acquired through marriage, with a few exceptions.

Thus, the former spouse may authorize their ex-spouse to continue using their last names after divorce. While not a common practice in Portugal, there is no obstacle to negotiating a monetary compensation to the ex-spouse in exchange for their consent.

If the use of the last names is denied by the former spouse, the acquired last names through marriage can only be retained through a judicial decision or an agreement obtained at the Civil Registry Office. The request for using the spouse’s last names can be made within the divorce proceedings itself or, once the divorce is decreed, through a separate process initiated for this purpose at the Civil Registry Office.


Although there are no strict criteria defining cases in which the court should authorize the retention of surnames, our courts have come to consider that an authorization should only be granted if there are relevant reasons, evaluated case by case, that justify the retention of surnames against the will of their original holder. An example of a legitimate interest is when a person is recognized in their professional, scientific, or artistic field based on their surname, which becomes a crucial identifying element linking the person to their previous professional or scientific/artistic work.


Ivo Morgado

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