Is It Legal To Change The Locks When You Break Up With Your Spouse?

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When a couple that had moved in together separates, it's unlikely they'll want to stay under the same roof for long. One party would eventually find another place to live. So for the person who remains at the current property, are they legally allowed to change the locks? Let's find out.

If there's a dispute over who will be staying at the current property, the Family Court will have the final say on the matter.

If you're the one who will be staying at a home that you once shared with your partner, you'd expect the other party to hand over their house keys. But what if they refuse to return the keys, claim they have lost them or you suspect they had made a copy of them?

If the separation hasn't been legally finalised, are you still able to change the locks to your home?

That depends on the circumstances. For rental properties, you obviously would have to get the landlord's consent. According to law firm Slater & Gordon:

Where the property is owned by both parties

  • Both proprietors have the right to change the locks.
  • If you change the locks, your spouse is entitled regain access to the property without your consent.

Where the property is owned by one party

  • The owner of the property has the right to change the locks.
  • It may be best for the party who does not own the property to seek the other party’s consent or provide notice to the other party of their intent to change the locks.

Bear in mind that you should consider carefully whether you want to go ahead with changing the locks. If you're worried about your safety (or the safety of whoever will be at the existing property), it's better to let the police know about it. But if you're just trying to lock out your partner (perhaps, out of spite) you should think about how that's going to impact ongoing legal negotiations.

Slater & Gordon recommends that you ask yourself the following questions before you decide on changing the locks:

  • Are you concerned about your or another occupant’s safety?
  • Has the other party already moved out of the property or are you looking to lock them out?
  • Does the other party require access to collect their belongings or for some other purposes (for example, property maintenance or preparing the property for sale)?
  • Does the other party have somewhere else they can live?
  • Do you have an agreement about who is responsible for the mortgage repayments or rent?
  • Will changing the locks frustrate negotiations of your property settlement or parenting arrangements?

You can read up on all the previous instalments of Is It Legal? here. Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.

[Slater & Gordon]


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