Can I change the locks?
So long as your name is on the deed to the house (exclusively, or jointly with your spouse), you have the legal right to change the locks on your house, much like had you lost your keys or just wanted new locks for your home.
But sometimes in a divorce, the Court will do things differently because of other considerations. Other variables must be examined to truly find the “real” answer. In this case, a spouse many want to reconsider what would otherwise be a "legal" move or something that would be typically allowable.
The reality is that most Judges don't like the idea of forcing a spouse out of the house, especially, if there are not many options for the spouse who is looking for a new (or temporary) home. The courts want you to be reasonable, and the "status quo" test usually applies. "Status Quo" being that all should stay the same as it was before the divorce started. If you fail the status quo test, you’ll be looked upon poorly by the judge, and that reputation will follow you through the entire divorce. So, where is the line?
It’s hard to say when a spouse would otherwise cross the line from being the squeaky clean spouse, to the spouse violating the status quo test. So, here are some key considerations when considering changing the locks:
(i) If you and your spouse have children, consider that the Judge may not like the fact that by changing locks, you are separating the other parents from the children. Remember, the hallmark of all the custody factors is your ability (or inability) to foster a relationship between the children and the other parent. Don't lose a custody case because you want to lock out your spouse.
(ii) If your spouse went to run a quick errand, and upon his or her return, the locks where changed preventing access to clothing, personal items, and the like, I would say that this will not look good for you. Getting cute by leaving clothes and items on the porch or lawn will also hurt you in the courtroom. Being cute only hurts you in court.
(iii) If your spouse has moved out, and has been out for some time where personal belongings have long been divided, I would say that you safely can change the locks without it looking poorly upon you.
(iv) If you're uncertain and the facts are not very clear, then most attorneys would advise not to risk it. Ultimately, if you’re in court on the issue, you have invited court activity, which only means the case will now cost you more money.
Be mindful that attorney's fees may be the least of your concerns when locking out your spouse. Some locked-out spouses simply wait for you to leave, and have the locks changed back again. This then turns the table around and some spouses do this several times over until both are emotionally and financially exhausted with the gamesmanship.
Also, be mindful that Locksmiths aren’t all that cheap, and combined with the cost of litigating the issue may not be work risk. Overall, you should consider a holistic approach to address your desire for physical separation from your soon to be ex. There are likely better legal options to achieve the same or similar results.
If you would like to talk to Mr. Nordini about your options to better secure physical separation while you're waiting for your divorce to be completed, call now for your free consultation.