Despite the 2-1 appeals court verdict upholding a Utah policy that a divorced woman cannot restore her maiden name to her driver's license unless the name change is in the divorce decree, the policy is still a poor one and should be junked.
Under current practice in the Driver License Division, if the name change is not included in the original divorce decree, the decree must be amended. That means the woman has to go back to court, pay several hundred dollars in legal fees and get her ex-husband's permission - all just to use her maiden name on her own driver's license.The plaintiff in the appeal had presented her birth certificate and divorce decree to the state, which already had a record of her license under her maiden name. But an unwritten state policy says she cannot reclaim her maiden name unless a judge specifically says she can.
None of this is fair to the woman and cannot be justified.
All a woman has to do to change her driver's license name when she gets married is show her marriage certificate. But showing a divorce decree is not deemed enough documentation to change it back. Why the difference in standards? And why the stubborn clinging to an "unwritten" policy that smacks of something out of a bygone era when women had few rights of their own?
Many other states allow the driver's license name change without a court order. Even a copy of a divorce decree is not necessary in some cases; the mere desire to change the name and a birth certificate are all that is necessary.
And a woman applying for a U.S. passport, no matter what her married name or former married name might be, only has to show a birth certificate to qualify for the valued document from the U.S. State Department.
The appeals court justices who upheld the Utah policy said, in effect, that having a driver's license is a privilege, not a right, and the state can do pretty much what it wants in setting standards.
But as the dissenting justice noted, the Utah policy is appears to be unfair: "I can conceive of no legitimate interest which the state of Utah might have in making it simple for a woman to adopt a husband's name but difficult for her to shed it."
If the Driver License Division won't change its unreasonable policy, the Legislature should spell out a more fair procedure in the law.