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Can I Change the Locks on My House During a Divorce?

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | Sep 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

One of the most frequently asked questions that many people have when they separate is “Can I change the locks on my house during a divorce?” The short answer is usually “yes” – but please keep reading the discussion below for a more complete explanation.

When parties are married, both the husband and the wife have equal rights to all marital assets until and unless the Court says otherwise – regardless of whether they are titled only in the husband's name, only in the wife's name, or jointly.

So, either spouse has the “right” to change the locks to try to force the other one out, but the displaced spouse can force his/her way back in – and he/she should not be arrested for “breaking into” his/her own home. Keep in mind that locking your spouse out of the home is generally unwise, as doing so will probably (1) escalate already raised emotions between the parties and (2) anger the judge who will hear your case unless you have extremely valid, verifiable reasons for having done so.

At most temporary hearings, the Court determines which spouse gets temporary exclusive use and possession of the former marital residence while the case is pending. Once that happens, the other spouse may not come back to the home without the other's permission. If the displaced spouse violates the Order and enters the home without permission, he/she is subject to being held in contempt of Court for doing so, which could possibly include a fine or jail time.

Once the Court determines who has temporary possession of the home, it is wise for that person to change all of the locks to keep the other party out. If there is a security system, your security codes should be changed as soon as possible and the provider should be notified as to which spouse does (and doesn't) have the right to enter the home. The company may want for you to provide them with a copy of the Temporary Order to verify which spouse has the right to possess and occupy the home. If you don't yet have a security system, it might be prudent to get one to help safeguard your home and possessions.

About the Author

J. Benjamin Stevens

Senior Partner


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