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When a relationship ends, trust and good communication between you can break down. It is not unusual to feel insecure and worried about how to have control over your home environment for yourself and any children who may be remaining there with you as well as wanting to protect your privacy. One of your first questions may be ‘can I change the locks?’
There are a few scenarios to consider depending on your circumstances:
(a) The property is owned or rented jointly by you both (married/civil partnership or unmarried)
If you jointly own or rent the family home, you both have a right of occupation as joint owners or co-tenants. This applies whether you are are married/in a civil partnership or unmarried.
This right of occupation continues for each of you even if one person moves out of the family home. Neither of you has the right to lock the other person out unless the Court has made an occupation order excluding one of you from the property.
Therefore, you should not change the locks without the other owner’s/tenant’s consent. If you do, a key should be provided to the other person. If you are renting your home, you should ask your landlord to consent to the locks being changed and you may need to provide the landlord with a new key.
(b) The family home is owned or rented solely by one of you
Whilst you are legally entitled to change the locks as a sole legal owner; if you cannot agree this, it is recommended that you take advice from a family lawyer before taking such drastic action to see if you can reach agreement about the other person’s access to the home.
You are legally able to change the locks without the need for their consent but it is advisable to take legal advice to limit difficulties between you and potentially Court proceedings.
You should not change the locks without the consent of the non-tenant spouse/civil partner and would also need the landlord’s consent.
You are legally entitled to change the locks as sole tenant, but before doing so, you would need the landlord’s consent and should take advice.
If one person is subject to domestic violence or threatening behaviour by another person who has a right to live in the same property (whether you are married/in a civil partnership or unmarried), there is the option to apply for an occupation order and a non-molestation order depending on circumstances. In simple terms an occupation order can:
When deciding whether to make an occupation order the court consider various factors including balancing the harm that each party will suffer if an order is, or is not, made.
If you deprive a joint tenant or owner of access to the property by changing the locks this could be classed as an illegal eviction.
However, if you change the locks and your former partner uses or threatens violence to regain entry when they know that you are present and that you do not wish them to enter, section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 specifically states that the fact that a person has an interest in or a right to possess or occupy the property does not in itself constitute lawful authority for them to enter that property.
It may be possible for your lawyers to negotiate more urgent arrangements about living arrangements for you and your children. A Court application is not inevitable but may be necessary. They may recommend that you consider Mediation, Collaborative Practice or Arbitration as a way to resolve and deal with the other longer term, issues relating to finances and child arrangements.
If one person needs to go to the property to collect their belongings for example, arrangements can be made establishing ground rules for how much notice must be given to the other person, who will be present and what will be collected and above all ensuring that the welfare and safety of any children who may be present is prioritised.
If these dispute resolution options are not possible because there is an urgent situation where you need to exclude the other person for your own safety and/or that of any children living with you, it may be possible to apply for an occupation order and your lawyer will support you through this process. Out of office hours, if you feel at immediate risk of harm you should call the police.
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