When you separate from your partner, spouse or civil partner, and they leave the family home, you may wish to change the locks to stop them coming back. Can you do this?
It all depends on how you own your property. If:
1. You are renting your property and both names are on the tenancy agreement; or
2. You own your property in joint names
You cannot exclude your ex from the home without an order from the Court. Your ex is entitled to live in the property and if you do change the locks, they are entitled to break back into the property as long as they make good the damage. This means that they can get a locksmith in or break into the property themselves but they must repair any damage they make and give you a key if the locks are changed.
There are very limited circumstances in which you can change the locks without any consequences.
If your ex is violent or abusive towards you, you can apply to the Court for a non-molestation order and an occupation order. You will need to show that you are at risk of being intimidated, harassed or pestered and that you need to be able to enjoy peaceful occupation of your home. It also helps to show that your ex has somewhere else to live whilst the order is in place.
1. You rent in your sole name; or
2. You own the property in your sole name
You may be able change the locks. However, if you are married or have been living with someone for a long time, they may have rights to live in the property and you must be very careful before stopping them from coming back in. In these circumstances, they could apply to the Court to get an order to regain entry to the property and even for an order to exclude you.
There are very limited circumstances in which you can change the locks without any consequences and you should take legal advice if you are thinking about doing this. Changing the locks without having an order in place may mean that your case starts on an aggressive footing and it may stop you being able to deal with other issues in an amicable matter.
You may want to think about the other issues that separating from your ex may bring. Are you able to pay the rent or mortgage and bills on your own? What other financial support are you entitled to if you are now living on your own? It is now a good time to try to talk about Child Maintenance and you can look at whether you are entitled to tax credits or other benefits if you are on a lower income or you are working part time. You can also look at arrangements for your ex to see the children and think about your long term plans i.e. if you wish to get divorced and separate your assets.
Melanie Westwood contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101′, 3rd edition, (Bath Publishing, 20230