A man’s style of address post-divorce does not change. By convention a divorcee would adopt the style of, for example, Mrs Caroline Debrett (ie retaining her title of ‘Mrs’ and her married surname ‘Debrett’, but using her own forename).
This rule is commonly followed by some members of the older generation, but it is by no means the rule for younger women. Many women, especially those who combine a working life with a married life, choose not to use their husband’s surname at all, retaining their maiden name throughout the marriage. In this circumstance, the dissolution of a marriage will have no effect on the style of address for the female partner; the only question is whether she prefers to be Mrs, Miss or Ms Caroline Davies, for example, or just Caroline Davies with no title.
Some divorced women, who previously assumed their husband’s surname, may prefer to revert to their maiden name. Often this happens where there are no children from the marriage. If there are children, however, many women may retain their married surnames and continue to use ‘Mrs’, to avoid a situation where the mother is using a different surname from that of her children.
Writing to an Untitled Divorcee
When writing to a divorcee, therefore, it is advisable to follow the conventional option, and call her ‘Mrs Charlotte Debrett’ (ie use her forename and her married surname). If in doubt, ask the woman in question or a reliable friend or business colleague.
Peerage and Courtesy Titles
When a peeress obtains a divorce the general rule is that she places her forename before her title, for example Mary, Duchess of Mayfair. This is a practical measure to avoid confusion should the peer in question marry again. If a divorced peer remains unmarried his former wife may continue to use her title without the qualification of her forename.
If Miss Jane Debrett marries the Hon Michael Hill she becomes the Hon Mrs Michael Hill. On divorce she should be Mrs Jane Hill (since the courtesy title belongs to her husband).
When the Hon Alice Hart (daughter of a peer) marries Mr Debrett she becomes the Hon Mrs Debrett rather than the Hon Mrs James Debrett. Unless the woman he remarries is also a peer’s daughter, she can continue being named the Hon Mrs (no first name) Debrett, which differentiates her from her successor. However, it is more common now to use the Hon Mrs Alice Debrett, with the first name reinserted.