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Can I Change Locks During Divorce?

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Can I Change Locks During Divorce?
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Ending a marriage or long-term domestic partnership raises many complex personal and legal questions about the home you once shared.

What are your rights and responsibilities regarding the family home when you separate? Can locks legally be changed to restrict a former partner’s access? This blog covers some key legal and practical considerations for UK homeowners.

If you own the house on your own…

When a property like a house or flat is entirely in one partner’s name, the legal situation around changing locks is more straightforward. However, joint “beneficial” ownership and rights to occupy through prior cohabitation still factor in ethically and legally.

After seeking legal advice, you confirm that you are the sole legal and beneficial owner, and your former partner has no rights to occupy. In that case, you may be entitled to change entrance locks. However, there is still a formal process that you should legally follow.

Legally changing the locks

  • You should formally notify your former partner that you plan to change the locks and be given reasonable notice to collect essential personal belongings while supervised. Typically, police presence would be involved if there are domestic violence issues.
  • You need to be very careful only to change entrance locks. You cannot legally deny access to jointly owned possessions inside the home. This includes items you plan to split during separation proceedings.
  • Keeping copies of correspondence and notifications around changing locks and restricting future access is advisable. This protects you legally if disputes arise later.
  • Suppose your former partner owns possessions left at the home. In that case, you must continue to grant them supervised access to retrieve belongings at mutually agreed times.
  • Check if your partner has keys for any outbuildings, garages or sheds on the property. Change locks for these areas if you are the sole legal owner.

Even as sole legal owner, if your ex-partner has resided in the home with you for an extended period, they may have accrued certain “beneficial ownership” rights. These ethical occupancy rights mean formally denying access and changing locks without mediation or court order, which could still lead to civil lawsuits.

If you have children together, restricting access to the family home without custody agreements could violate parental rights. Tread carefully and consult a lawyer before changing locks when ethical occupancy concerns exist. Mediated temporary shared access may be advised.

If you jointly own the house together…

Joint home ownership among unmarried or married partners makes deciding unilateral lock changes all the more complex. The legal situation can be further complicated if you co-own the home with your former partner and jointly occupy the property.

If a home is jointly purchased or owned in both names, regardless of who moved out, neither party can legally lock the other owner out of the property. This includes rental and mortgaged properties where both partners are named on the title deeds. All co-owners maintain equal rights to access, occupy and use a jointly owned home.

Can I change the locks during a divorce?

Family court judges rarely authorise a sole co-owning spouse or ex-partner to change shared home locks, even during pending divorce and separation proceedings. Doing so without a prior court order could lead to civil lawsuits or even criminal charges in some cases.

Suppose there are issues between co-owning partners around home access restrictions. In that case, options like mediation can lead to temporary agreements. Or, as a last resort, applying for court orders around supervision, scheduled access or the eventual sale of the property.

  • Changing locks of jointly owned homes should never be done without:
  • Formal written temporary agreements between partners around access schedules and retrieval of possessions.
  • Mediated resolutions through solicitors if direct discussions escalate into conflicts.
  • Finally, court orders from a family court judge explicitly allow lock changes.

Even when formal steps are taken, it is advisable to provide reasonable notice before lock changes, keep copies of all agreements, and ensure supervised access so the other co-owner can still retrieve personal belongings if needed.

Particular circumstances in cases of abuse

If co-ownership of a formerly shared home involves current or prior domestic abuse of an occupying partner or children, extra safety precautions around access restrictions merit consideration. In documented cases of violence or harassment, it may be possible to apply for court protection orders or legally change locks for temporary protection orders. With evidence establishing grounds for fearing harm, denying a former abusive partner access may be lawfully defensible at a judge’s discretion. However, permanently overturning formal co-ownership rights typically requires selling/transferring ownership interests through the courts.

Can I prevent my ex from entering the property?

Outside extreme documented cases of domestic threats or abuse, legally denying your co-owning or co-occupying former partner entry into a shared home without their consent remains very challenging. Even with a relationship breakdown, both owner/occupiers maintain certain property rights that courts rarely overturn carte blanche.

Seeking injunctions

In limited instances, if your ex-partner vacated the shared home voluntarily, and you can evidence recurrent harassment upon their visits back, it may be possible to legally file for injunctions around contact or proximity restrictions. However, injunction applications require extensive documentation and meet evidentiary standards for domestic abuse rather than apply broadly to deny fundamental property rights. So again, consult an experienced family law solicitor regarding prospects before pursuing this complex legal avenue.

Can I change the locks while my partner is away?

A frequent question is whether you can legally change a shared home’s locks if the co-owning partner is temporarily gone for an extended trip or has voluntarily moved out recently post-breakup. A joint legal owner maintains access rights even if they no longer actively occupy a property. Changing home locks while they are away may offer temporary feelings of security or closure. But it legally risks being charged with unlawful denial of entry and breaking occupancy agreements, not to mention significant complications when alternate access must again be granted to the other owner per legal rights to the property.

Things to consider when selling your house post-divorce

When joint owners decide to sell a shared home to separate interests formally, there are still essential guidelines to follow around home access leading up to a sale. Legally, your ex maintains property rights as an owner until their interest is formally transferred or relinquished through sale completion.

Some advice during the sales process:

  • Consult your solicitor to set temporary access rules/supervision that you and your former partner agree to in writing.
  • Change locks/security codes once the sale closes for peace of mind. But not before without consent.
  • Communicate who can enter the home for viewings, repairs, and open houses. Stick to the agreed schedule.
  • If your ex must retrieve possessions, provide reasonable written notice, supervise/document entry, and remove items.
  • Keep your possessions safeguarded in secure spaces rather than openly accessible during open houses and viewings.

How We Buy Any Home can help

The process of jointly selling and splitting interests in a shared home understandably involves many emotionally charged decisions around security, privacy and closure. However, both parties maintain certain property rights up to the completion of a sale. So, seek legal counsel to set temporary agreements and restrictions that provide safety while adhering to lawful requirements around occupancy and access.

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