As a solicitor specialising in divorce law, I’ve often been asked about changing the locks on a marital home. This is an interesting, and often considered complicated, area.
The law however is surprisingly simple. There are very limited circumstances when a spouse or civil partner can change the locks on the family home. They don’t have the right to change the locks on the family home, provided it is, or has been, the shared home. This is the case regardless of whether only one or both parties own or rent the home, unless a court order says otherwise.
If one party chooses to leave the home, the other partner still doesn’t have the right to change the locks until an agreement has been reached regarding the future of the home. This is where matters can become complicated if, for example, one of the partners left say 6 months ago, then it may seem reasonable to change the locks. The person left in occupation may understandably want to secure the home. Whilst this may make perfect sense, changing the locks here is still not acceptable and would be criticised by the judge, in court, and entry probably effected if the police became involved. Similarly, if the absent partner broke a window to gain entry, the police would probably side with the absentee partner, especially if the property remained jointly owned.
When it comes to divorce law if the home is owned by one party, the right for the other party to occupy or return expires on Decree Absolute or Dissolution of a Civil Partnership. If you live with your partner, outside marriage or Civil Partnership, and your name isn’t on the title deeds or tenancy agreement, you have no right to change the locks. Your partner may change the locks after they have given you reasonable notice to leave and that notice has expired. What comprises reasonable notice depends on the circumstances. If there has been violence, immediate notice may be considered reasonable. If your partner uses, or threatens to use, physical force to get you to leave, they are likely to be committing a criminal offence. There are legal steps you may be able to take to allow you to stay in the home, such as applying for an occupation order and/or exclusion order. If you do get an occupation order, you may change the locks while the order is ongoing. The message is therefore, think before changing the locks. It could back fire.
If you need any advice on divorce law, please contact us.