Help, my ex has changed the locks. What can I do?

Divorce|Relationships|Separation|March 11th 2019

You have separated but are still living together when you arrive home and your key no longer fits… Your ex has changed the locks! So, what can you do?

Sarah Jane Lenihan from our London Victoria office joins us on the blog with advice on what you can do if you find yourself locked out.

The first step is to take legal advice to find out what your rights are however if you are just home from a long day at work or have been at the gym to avoid going home this may not be possible.

Below, I have provided a quick overview of the legal position and some practical advice to help you in this emergency.

Keep calm

The most important piece of advice is to keep calm. Easy for me to say, I hear you shout but getting angry/upset is only going to make the situation worse. If you can have a calm conversation and reach an agreement with your ex this is often the best solution.

Perhaps there is someone close to you both that you could speak to, to help mediate to find a temporary solution.

Is there a court order in place?

Have you been served with a court order preventing you from returning? If you have I advise asking a friend/family member or finding a B&B/hotel to stay the night so that you can obtain legal advice the following day.

If there is a court order instructing that you are forbidden from entering the property do not do this as you could get arrested. This applies even if you do not agree with what has been written about you in any court application or statement. If you have been served with such an order without any prior notice, then there will be a date for you to return to court to set out your position. You may have been given the opportunity to file a statement in advance and to apply to discharge the order before the next hearing, so take legal advice at your first opportunity. Ignoring the paperwork or court hearing may lead to an unfavourable order being made in your absence.

House in joint names

If there is no order in place, whether you can enter the property will depend on if you are a legal owner of the property i.e. the property is in your name/the joint names of you and your ex or the tenancy is in your name/both of your names.
If you are a legal owner or your name is on the tenancy you have the right to enter and a key should be provided. Legally you can use reasonable force to enter the property or obtain a locksmith of your own to assist you in entering the property.

However, be warned this may lead to a telephone call from your ex to the police. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your ex, I would advise contacting your local police station to see if they can assist you to avoid any disturbance of peace especially if this is out of business hours. Be wary that your ex may exaggerate or simply lie about what has been happening to get the police to intervene so behaving in an angry fashion will not help your cause.

House in a sole name

If the property is owned or rented in the sole name of your ex, then you may still have the right to occupy/enter the property despite the separation. However, this also means that if the property is in your name it may mean that you cannot exclude the person without their name on the property from entering.

If, however, the person who is not named as legal owner or tenant leaves the property you may be within your rights to then change the locks and they may need permission from you or the court to return.
As you can see there is no one answer fits all and it is important that you take professional legal advice whether you are planning to change the locks or find yourself locked out especially when children or a vulnerable person are involved. You could be heavily criticised, and it may have a negative impact on the overall outcome of your case.

Starting a separation in an aggressive manner can lead to protracted and costly proceedings that could have been avoided if your case was carefully considered from the start.
If you find yourself locked out or wish to change the locks, please do contact us for legal advice before you make any rash decisions at the details below.

 

Sarah Jane advises on all areas of family law (divorce/dissolution, cohabitation, domestic violence, children) and has worked with a broad spectrum of clients both nationally and internationally.

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