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I'm asking this on behalf of my other half.

She got married in the 90s, and so changed her last name as so many women do. When she divorced in the early 00s, she did not go back to her maiden name as she was now accustomed to the "new" name, had her driver's license, bills, etc. all in that name and so forth.

Now with the introduction of Real ID, she apparently needs to get one of those if she's going to fly in the future. But when she tried to do so, she was denied since her birth certificate and social security card are in her maiden name, and her current license is in her married name, and she has no way to prove that she changed her name.

Of course she no longer has her marriage certificate (who keeps that after a nasty divorce?), and the language on the DMV's website about using divorce documents to prove the connection is unclear. Her passport also expired some years back and cannot be renewed because it also requires a copy of your marriage certificate if you changed your name.

The DMV website states that you must show:

Dissolution of marriage/domestic partnership document that contains the legal name as a result of the court action

But all that would show is the married name, not the maiden name, so we're unclear on how it would show any connection between the two names.

What are the options available for obtaining a real ID in this situation?

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    Well, did you try the obvious thing? That is, getting a copy of the marriage certificate? – Michael Hampton Feb 6 at 0:53
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    No, didn't even know you could do that long past the divorce having been filed. I'll look it up. – JVC Feb 6 at 0:55
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    Looks like that is probably the most practical solution, since you can indeed order a copy of the marriage certificate even after a divorce. If you'd care to make it an answer I'll accept it. – JVC Feb 6 at 4:31
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    Good example of why you should never throw away official documents, even if they hold bad memories! – Bee Feb 6 at 10:50
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    The marriage certificate still exists in the records, regardless whether the marriage ended or not. It's not like marriage certificates are 'expunged'. So she can get a copy of it. – smci Feb 8 at 4:36
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I live in Ohio and have the same issue. I was married once before, divorced, and now married again. According to the Ohio BMV website, I need certified copies of marriage licenses for BOTH of my marriages to show name progression (kinda odd since I still have all my social security cards for all 3 names). Getting a copy of the original marriage license was not hard (even though we are divorced). I just went to the courthouse where it was issued, paid a small fee, and walked out with it. She might even be able to order it online. Just check to see if it needs to be certified or just a copy.

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    Social Security cards are extremely easy to forge. Since they are not required for anything AFAIK—losing mine forty years ago has never been an issue—there’s nothing to be gained by making them more secure. – WGroleau Feb 6 at 16:48
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    California requires a physical Social Security card for RealID driver licenses. This is the first time I've ever needed mine, which I've never even seen. – arp Feb 6 at 17:57
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    Funny - as a nonimmigrant alien in the US, I can tell you with certainty that my Social Security card sees a lot of use. Particularly, back when I didn't have one, it was a pain to work around that - and the fact that mine has a few extra words on it makes a world of difference much more often than you'd imagine. – osuka_ Feb 6 at 18:43
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    @WGroleau You just wait. Next time you renew your driver's license, they'll be issuing RealID licenses, and you'll need all manner of documentation you didn't before. Caught me flat-footed too. In the meantime, after Oct. 1 brace yourself for a rude surprise at the TSA security line. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 6 at 22:34
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    @arp: California accepts many different documents for social security number besides the social security card. They will take W2 forms and 1099s that have your name and SSN on them, for example – Ross Millikan Feb 6 at 23:26
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Getting a copy of the original marriage certificate and the judgment of divorce would result in a Real ID in the past married name. The applicant might, however, prefer to return to her maiden (pre-marriage) name.

While this more formal process requires a petition to the court and newspaper publication of the proposed order, it isn't complex and can be done without an attorney.

This California Courts page sets forth the required steps:

  • Fill out your court forms
  • Have your forms reviewed
  • Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
  • File your forms with the court clerk
  • Publish the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name (if required)
  • If incarcerated or on parole, serve the documents
  • Go to your court hearing, if necessary
  • Get your Decree Changing Name from the court
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    Thanks, in this case she has no desire to return to her original name so thankfully, this will not be necessary. It's a good point about the result of using the divorce documents however. – JVC Feb 6 at 4:30
  • @GerardAshton Interesting point. Here in California, most court records (including divorce judgments) are publicly available to anyone upon payment of the copying/certification fee(s). – DavidSupportsMonica Feb 6 at 15:25
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    I deleted my previous comment to correct errors. It would be wise to obtain the court judgement and pre-divorce marriage certificate before the current driver license expires, because current valid ID may be required to obtain the marriage certificate. Rules for obtaining marriage certificates will depend on the jurisdiction where the marriage occurred. – Gerard Ashton Feb 6 at 15:52
  • Is there a spot on a marriage license for you to fill out a new name, and you can skip all of that? "The DMV website states that you must show: [ ...] document that contains the legal name as a result of the court action" - so you can either find it, get remarried, or go to court and wait 3 months? – Mazura Feb 7 at 8:52
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    A marriage license (at least in California) has spaces for only the participants' current names. The divorce (dissolution) paperwork, however, allows either party to request that the final court order dissolving the marriage also returns a party's name to its earlier, pre-marriage form. – DavidSupportsMonica Feb 7 at 15:39

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