This is a question that is frequently asked of divorce solicitors, usually by the person who has remained living in what was the family home.

The two most common situations when this is asked is where:

  1. The property is jointly owned
  2. The property is in one person’s sole name

The property is jointly owned

If the property is jointly owned then the other person has a right of occupation as a result of their joint ownership.

This right of occupation continues even if that person moves out of the family home. Neither party has the right to lock the other person out.

Therefore, no, you should not change the locks without the other owner’s consent or if you do a key should be provided to the other party.

The property is owned solely in my name

If the property is owned solely in one persons name but has been the family home then the other person has a right not to be evicted or excluded as a result of their marriage.

In the event that they move out of the property then they must seek permission of the court before they are entitled to return. In these circumstances (where the other party has moved out and the property is owned in your sole name) you are legally able to change the locks without the need for your partner’s consent but you should consider whether it is wise to do so by taking legal advice beforehand.

What if there is domestic violence or threatening behaviour?

In circumstances where one person is subject to domestic violence or threatening behaviour by another person who has a right to live in the same property, then there is often the option to apply for an occupation order.

An occupation order is an injunction which effectively removes a person’s right to be able to live in a property.

When deciding whether or not to make an occupation order the court will take into account various factors which will include balancing the harm that each party will suffer if an order is, or is not, made.

In most cases it is preferable to try to resolve these issues without the need for court proceedings. Often one party needs to go to the property to collect their belongings for example and in this scenario arrangements should be made to enable that to happen.

Couples who find themselves in this situation should consider the options of Mediation, Collaborative Practice or Arbitration as a way to resolve and deal with the other, probably longer term, issues.

Are you separating?

Do you want to talk through the process?

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28 responses to “Can I change the locks during divorce?

  1. My husband and i live separated 5 years ago, we have a good relationship and often go out together. We have 4 children who live with me.
    He has a key to the house i live in. The house is in joint names but he hasnt paid anything towards the mortgage or bills since we separated. He pays me £100.00 per month.
    The issue that concerns me is that sometimes when im out at work he will come to the house to pick items up for the children but he will go in the loft or the shed and takes items and not say anything. He has also dug up plants from my garden and taken them to his house and not said any thing. My question is can he do this without any consultation with me? I have spoken to him about it but he just laughs and says i am being petty!

    1. Thank you for your comment. If you and your husband have separated and he has moved out of the family home then he should respect your privacy and should not enter it without your agreement. However, he does have the right to occupy the property and therefore on a practical level it is very difficult to prevent him entering the property. In certain circumstances, the court may grant an Occupation Order where there has been domestic violence or threats of harm. I would recommend that you seek legal advice from a Resolution lawyer and/or invite your husband to attend Mediation so that this issue (and others) can be discussed in an amicable way. I would hope that you could find a resolution which acknowledges your need for privacy and your husband’s need to collect his belongings and be assured that he does not lose any ‘rights’ by agreeing not to come to the house as he pleases. On a practical note please keep a note of all the items that your husband has removed from your home.

  2. I was told through my husband solicitors that he has changed the locks and the security code to the house. He has also put all my stuff out on the veranda. Firstly can he do that and also is it legal and right for his solicitor to convey that message to me.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am afraid that I cannot provide specific advice in relation to your query as I would need more information about your circumstances to know whether or not you retained a right of occupation in the property. This would be dependent upon a number of factors which are set out in the blog, such as whether the property is jointly owned or owned in one of your sole names, whether you were continuing to live in the property at the time the locks and the security code were changed and potentially other factors as well. In relation to whether it is right and legal for your husband’s solicitors to convey that message to you, there is nothing illegal or improper about them communicating this to you. I hope this helps but if I can assist on a more formal basis please do not hesitate to contact me.

  3. My ex-spouse has been given a right of occupancy on the FMH I solely own for one year (as part of the financial settlement); after then she must vacate the property so I can go back in -I was given a lump sum to rent elsewhere for one year only.
    Can I call a locksmith to open the door if she doesn’ t open the door and change the door lock? And if so, do I need to give her the new key? Finally, do I need to start an eviction process if she doesn’t move (she would be in breach of the court order)?

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am afraid that I am unable to advise without seeing the order that has been made. In the circumstances I would suggest that you seek advice from a family lawyer who is a member of Resolution.

  4. My ex and I have split up, she has been abusive emotionally and physically towards me for 15 years. She chose to move out of the family
    Home with the children and start fresh. She’s emptied all of our joint belongings from the house and as soon as I went away she broke into the house by damaging the property saying she wanted to collect things which I can’t see why she couldn’t have arranged this whilst I was there. I feel like I have no privacy and am scared to be in my own home if she keeps breaking in. What can I do?

    1. Thank you for your comment. I would strongly suggest that you obtain advice from a family solicitor who is a member of Resolution. One potential option that may be available to you is to consider making an application for an Occupation Order which can include provision preventing your ex-partner from entering the family home.

  5. Hi..
    I have my decree absolute but the financial part is yet to go to court. My ex wife and I jointly own two properties and she lives in the ex marital home. We have recently evicted a tenant from the other property and I got the locks changed. As I’m going to move in I don’t want to give my ex any keys as things aren’t amicable. She has asked verbally for them but there’s no reason for her to enter other than to make my life awkward. She was there on eviction day and took photos of everything but left before the locks were sorted. How can I legally deter her..? Thought of putting an alarm in and cctv but its likely she’ll do it anyway and either steal or damage my things…
    What can I do and do I HAVE to give her keys or just say drill the locks and break in if you really want to but you’re not getting them..?

    1. Thank you for your comment. If the properties are jointly owned then you are both have a right to occupy either property. There are injunctions that can be obtained from the court to prevent someone from entering a property and you may wish to speak with a family lawyer who is a member of Resolution to consider whether this would be appropriate in your case.

  6. can my wife move someone in to the property while we are going through a divorce.the property is in both names.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I believe that both you and your wife are able to grant someone a licence to occupy the property although you are each free to terminate that licence. Practically, what action, if any, you may wish to take is likely to depend upon a number of factors. I would suggest that you seek legal advice from a family lawyer who is a member of Resolution to discuss your situation.

  7. My husband and I are currently separated. I live and work abroad, and he lives in GB . We jointly own a property, where he lives with our 20 year old daughter.
    I pay for the monthly outgoings on this property – he contributes nothing.
    Things are not amicable and he is very aggressive.
    He has threatened to throw our daughter out, and change the locks
    Is he legally allowed to do this without my agreement ?
    Also, our daughter has a right to be safe in her home. Can he throw her out when I am allowing her to live there and paying all the utilities ?

    1. Thank you for your comment. I suspect that your daughter is occupying the property under a ‘licence’ which I understand can be terminated immediately. The difficulty in your circumstances is that both you and your husband can enter and terminate a licence and if you are not present then there is no one to ensure your daughter’s ability to occupy the property. However, as a joint owner you retain the right to occupy the property. I would suggest that you should speak with a family lawyer who is a member of Resolution who will be able to advise you on your particular circumstances.

  8. My husband and I have recently separated and jointly own a holiday home abroad which is on the market, but will probably take some time to sell. In the meantime we will both use it separately, agreeing dates between us. I have a lot of personal things/clothes etc. there. I am not happy about my husband’s plan to take his new partner on holiday there, but he tells me I can’t stop him. Is that correct?

    1. Thank you for your comment. As the holiday home is owned abroad I suspect that any rights regarding occupation and use would be subject to the laws of whichever country it is in. Therefore, I am afraid that I am unable to offer any guidance on this.

  9. I’m am going through a divorce at the moment,last Saturday I moved out of our jointly owned home for my own sanity .today I was told he has changed the locks is this illegal?
    He has already been warned by the police for harassment,he’s now stalking me .

    1. Thank you for your comment. Whether your husband should have changed the locks or not at this time will depend upon the specific issues in your case surrounding how the property is owned. I would suggest that you speak with a family lawyer who is a member of Resolution.

  10. I have left the matrimonial home after years of mental abuse and living in rented accommodation. My husband refuses to mediate or respond to six solicitor letters. I have now run out of funds to continue to pay lawyers, my two questions are do I have the legal right to enter the property which is in joint names but since I left one month ago my husband has taken over payment of mortgage and bills? And as he is refusing to negotiate sale or buying me out am I still entitled to 50% equity if this continues as I am not entitled to legal aid I cannot get any advice

    1. Thank you for your comment. If the properly is jointly owned (and providing there is no court order in place which prevents you from living in it), then you still have a right of occupation. However, before attempting to move back into the property I would strongly recommend you obtain advice from a family lawyer who is a member of Resolution who can consider your specific circumstances with you.

      I am afraid I cannot provide any advice as to how the equity in the family home would be divided as this would depend upon the particular circumstances of your case.

  11. I am thinking to change the locks after years of mental abuse. We don’t own the property and the tenancy agreement is on my name but he doesn’t want to leave the property but doesn’t contribute the rent in full either. We also have a 4 year old daughter. He is very confident and telling me that he has a right to live in the property and l will not be able to evict him. I understand he has the right to live in the marital home but is it illegal if l change the lock ? What happens if he calls the police? Would l be forced to opent the door and let him in even though he is abusive ? It takes a long time to get a court order and very l don’t want to live with him anymore than 5 minutes. Thanks

    1. Thank you for your comment. On the assumption that you and your partner are married and have lived in the property during the course of your marriage then I believe that your partner would have a right of occupation even though the tenancy agreement is in your sole name. You should not change the locks as there are likely to be implications. You may also not be able to change the locks without your landlord’s consent. I would suggest that you seek advice from a family lawyer who is a member of Resolution in respect of the options that may be available to you.

  12. My ex left me 3 days after Christmas in 2017 for a woman he was having an affair with.

    We both jointly own the home we bought in 2015, since then I paid the mortgage and he paid the bills which is a lot less than the mortgage each month.

    Last year he tried to kick me out of the house as we co-habitat while I waited for my childhood home up the road to have it’s renovations finished. I had a contract drawn up which he signed saying for the rest of our fixed rate we would pay half the mortgage each and come January 2021 he either has to buy me out for £60,000 or the house goes up for sale without his consent (he signed an aggrment on that) and he will get half the money after fees are taken out.

    I moved out 3 days before Christmas 2018 with our daughter who’s 3 and since then she’s gone back and forth between us. In that time I’ve been moving a lot of my things so I can upack what I take then get more when it’s put away.

    I’m currently studying law myself and he told me the other day he’s going to change the locks so I can’t have access until he gives me it. He says I can’t have a key or access to my belongings unless he says I can.

    I’ve informed him he doesn’t have that right and if he does I have a right to go to the police for access as I hold the deeds to the house as proof (held within my solicitors vault) of ownership to gain access to my things.

    He’s saying I stole £200 from him right before I moved. I didn’t he lent me £200 to pay off the final bill to the builder which I paid him back 4 days later on payday.

    He’s now since withholding to pay a utility bill that was both in our names, I got it down to a pay monthly direct debit of £65, so £32.50 each he’s claiming he can’t afford that then goes he’s changing the locks with a new front door which he can afford apparently.

    Is there any injunction I can get to stop him doing this?

    1. Thank you for your comment, I am afraid that we are unable to provide case specific advice in this forum. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed and seeking advice from a Resolution lawyer would be beneficial for you to receive the advice you require. If we can assist please do contact us.

  13. My husband moved out of our joint home 3 years ago. He moved to another country & has not contributed to the mortgage during this time. He is now intending to come back to England. Does he have a right to move back into our home?

    1. Thank you for your comment. If the property is in your joint names, your husband’s right to occupation would continue even after moving away and failing to contribute towards the mortgage. I would recommend that you seek legal advice from an expert family lawyer who is a member of Resolution as to the options available to you.

  14. I want judicial separation from my husband of 10years, we live together but due to infedelities and narcissistic behaviour l want separation. Do l need a solicitor or l can just fill the form from gove website and send it to the neares family court. We have no assets ar finances together. We only have 3 children together.

    1. Thank you for your comment. There is no requirement that you instruct a solicitor to apply for a judicial separation on your behalf however, we would always recommend that you seek some independent legal advice from a lawyer who is a member of Resolution. In your circumstances, it may be important to seek some advice on the legal consequences of a judicial separation as opposed to a divorce. We would also recommend that you seek specialist legal advice on whether you need a consent order which dismisses all future claims you and your husband may have against one another. You may also need advice regarding the arrangements for the children and/or child maintenance.

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