15 May 2023

Forms of address after divorce

While it is becoming increasingly common for a man to take his spouse's surname upon marriage, or for couples to combine surnames, in this article we'll be looking at the forms of address for a divorced woman who has taken her husband's surname.

If you’re a newly divorced woman, and sensitive about how you’re addressed, you must be prepared to send out a notification to friends, family, businesses. Inevitably, there will be mistakes, so it’s best if you can resign yourself to this and accept faux-pas with good grace.

By convention a divorcee would adopt the style of, for example, Mrs Caroline Edwards (ie retaining her title of ‘Mrs’ and her married surname ‘Edwards’, but using her own forename, ie no longer ‘Mrs John Edwards’). The use of her own forename, rather than her husband’s, denoted that she was divorced. While this rule may still be followed by some older women, most married women choose from a range of naming options and may well decide to use their own forename with their married surname. The relaxation of the traditional rules means that how a woman is named and titled is no longer a reliable way of determining whether she is married or divorced, but society is much more relaxed about social and marital status, and it is no longer considered vital to communicate it on first meeting.

In addition, many women, especially those who combine a working life with a married life, choose not to use their husband’s surname at all. If a woman has retained her maiden name throughout the marriage her only decision, on becoming divorced, is whether she prefers to be Mrs, Miss or Ms Janie Jones, for example, or just Janie Jones with no title.

Women who have assumed their husband’s surname and are divorcing may prefer to revert to their maiden name. This happens most often where there are no children from the marriage.

If there are children, however, some women may choose to retain their married surnames, and continue to use ‘Mrs’, just in order to maintain the status quo and to avoid a situation where the mother is using a different surname to that of her children.

Play it Safe

If people do not know how you want to be addressed, they may well opt for the conventional option – ‘Mrs Caroline Edwards’ (ie they will use your forename and the married surname). Don’t be offended if this does not reflect your chosen form of address – simply write a polite note saying that from now on you’re using the following…. Eg ‘Ms Caroline Talbot’.

Women with Titles

When a peeress (ie a duchess, marchioness, countess, viscountess or baroness) obtains a divorce, the general rule is that she places her forename before her title, for example, Mary, Duchess of Hampshire. This is purely a practical measure to avoid confusion should the peer in question marry again.

In the event of a divorced peer remaining unmarried there is no reason why his former wife should not continue to use her title without the qualification of her forename.

If the former wife of a peer remarries someone without a title, she may no longer use her title. For example, if Tessa, Viscountess Tilney, marries Mr George Robinson she becomes Mrs George Robinson or Mrs Tessa Robinson.

Wording Invitations

Everyone wants to get formal invitations right, especially wedding invitations. The vicissitudes of family life – divorces, remarriages, step-parents – can all be accommodated on formal invitations if you follow the wording set out below:

If the bride’s mother is the hostess:

Mrs John Robinson*
requests the pleasure of
your company at the marriage
of her daughter
Caroline
to….
at …
on …

*This is the traditional form of address; many wives will choose to use their forename (Mrs Charlotte Robinson), and that is quite acceptable.

If the bride’s father is the host:

Mr John Robinson
requests the pleasure of
your company at the marriage
of his daughter
Caroline

If the bride’s mother and stepfather are the joint host/hostess:

Mr and Mrs Edgar Forsythe*
request the pleasure of
your company at the marriage
of her daughter
Caroline Robinson

*This is the traditional form of address; if the wife chooses to use her own forename it would read, for example, Mr Edgar and Mrs Emily Forsythe

If the bride’s father and her stepmother are the joint host/hostess:

Mr and Mrs John Robinson*
request the pleasure of
your company at the marriage
of his daughter
Caroline

*This is the traditional form of address; if the stepmother chooses to use her own forename it would read, for example, Mr John and Mrs Charlotte Robinson.

Where the bride’s stepmother is the hostess:

Mrs John Robinson*
requests the pleasure of
your company at the marriage
of her stepdaughter
Caroline

•The bride’s stepmother may choose to use her own forename, eg Mrs Charlotte Robinson.

If the bride’s parents are divorced, but are co-hosting the wedding:

Mr John Robinson and Mrs Edgar Forsythe*
request the pleasure of
your company at the marriage
of their daughter
Caroline

* ‘Mrs Charlotte Robinson’ if she has not remarried and has kept her married name

*‘Mrs Emily Forsythe’ if she has remarried but chooses to use her own forename
*‘Ms Emily Wilson’ if she has opted to use her maiden name, whether she has remarried or not.

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