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Divorce law blog

I want to change the locks on the house to keep my ex out. Can I?

07/08/2017   By: Danni Belbin

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this.

You jointly own the home with your ex

If you own your property jointly with your ex, then you should not change the locks without their agreement, even if your ex leaves your home voluntarily. This is because your ex has a legal right to re-enter and occupy the property.

If you do change the locks to keep them out, you may find yourself facing a court application where your ex seeks to enforce their right to live in the property or they try to forcibly re-enter. It is much better, if you can, to agree with your ex who will live in the property both now and in the future.

The house is owned in your name only

If you own your own property in your sole name, then you have a greater ability to change the locks because your ex does not necessarily have a legal right to re-enter and occupy the property.

Be warned that your ex, even though their name is not on the title deeds, will have acquired a right to live in the family home if the two of you are married.

And even if you and your ex are not married, if your ex has paid money into the property, they might be able to establish an interest in it which in turn may mean they have a right to live there.

Can my ex break in?

It would be foolish not to recognise that this is a possibility. A joint owner can use “reasonable force” to re-enter a property they have been excluded from; however, they must make good any damage caused and they should never try to forcibly re-enter an occupied property for fear of committing criminal offences.

If your ex wants to come back to your home to collect their belongings, it is best you both agree a date and time for this to take place. Some people arrange in advance for a police officer to attend at the same time to ensure there are no altercations.

The only way to satisfactorily exclude someone from a property they have a right to occupy is to go to court and get an occupation order. However, this involves proving to a court that it is appropriate for your ex to be excluded from a property they have the right to live in. The court needs to be sure that an occupation order is required to safeguard either your wellbeing or any child before making it. This is not always easy and in many cases there will simply be insufficient grounds for the court to make the order.

The family team at Mills & Reeve has lots of experience in dealing with rights over the family home, occupation orders and also non-molestation orders. Give them a call or make an email enquiry if you need to discuss this with them.

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