Pre-, During, and Post-Divorce: Can You Legally Change the Locks in Your Home?
Even in the friendliest of divorces, at times, the last person you want in your home is your ex. And during a contentious divorce, you probably no longer want your spouse in your home well before the divorce is finalized. A seemingly easy way to accomplish this is to change the locks in your home. But is this legal?
The main factors in answering this question are timing and ownership.
The easiest question to answer is what you can legally do after a divorce. If you have been granted exclusive ownership of your home, either through the courts or by mutual agreement, you can freely change the locks.
If your ex attempts to gain access to your home without your permission after that (including borrowing keys you have given to your children), they are trespassing and will suffer legal consequences.
During a Divorce
Until a divorce is completed, houses are considered marital property, partially owned by both parties. Your spouse has the right to access the house, even if they have moved out. However, you can get permission from the courts to change the locks in limited circumstances.
If your spouse is a threat to you, you can petition the courts for a personal protection order (PPO). This protection order allows you to change the locks legally.
Alternatively, you can file a motion for the exclusive use of a marital home. The courts may grant this if you and your spouse have been separated for a very long time or if there is evidence of spousal abuse. However, the burden of proof is on you to get this type of order, and filing for it may make a divorce even more contentious.
Finally, you can change the locks if your spouse grants permission. This is only likely to happen in friendly divorces where your spouse doesn’t plan to fight you for the house.
Changing the locks before a divorce is a bad idea. Your spouse can legally get a locksmith to get them into the house, and the action can be used against you in a future divorce proceeding.
If your spouse is abusive, it is better to leave the house and immediately retain a lawyer. If leaving the house is impossible, it is legal to change the locks in a single non-shared bedroom. Your spouse still has access to the house, but you have a safe place to escape to. This is a worst-case scenario, and you should definitely retain a lawyer.
Discuss Your Plans to Change Your Locks Before, During, or After a Divorce with a Divorce Attorney
Navigating a divorce without an experienced divorce attorney is always a bad decision. An action like changing the locks on your home, even if you fear for your safety, could badly hurt your position during the divorce proceedings.
If you are considering changing locks due to a divorce, contact the lawyers at The Gucciardo Law Firm, PLLC, immediately.
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