Date updated: Tuesday 21st May 2024

When a relationship breaks down leading to separation and divorce, often so can trust and communication. If one person moves out of the former family home, there can often be a desire to protect one’s privacy. This leads us to the question: “Can I change the locks after separation”. The answer is not quite as simple as “yes” or “no”.

Married couples

If you are married, then the presumption is that your spouse has a legal right to enter the family or matrimonial home you lived in together, regardless of who owns the property. This means you cannot change the locks legally without your spouse’s consent or by court order.

Should you change the locks without your spouse’s consent they could apply to the court to regain entry. This could then lead to heightened levels of conflict and mistrust which would not be in anyone’s best interests, especially at an emotionally heightened time. 

Cohabitating couples

The situation with couples that are not married is a little more complex, as you would need to establish who legally owns the property.

If the property is in your sole name, then you are legally entitled to change the locks, albeit this would not restrict your spouse from pursuing a claim for a share in the value of the property. However, the non-owning spouse does not have an automatic right to occupy the property. The onus is on the non-owning party to establish that they have a beneficial interest in the property.

If the property is held in your joint names, then the approach is similar to that for married couples and you cannot change the locks legally without your partner’s consent or by court order.

Domestic abuse

If there has been domestic abuse and you are fearful of remaining safely in your property, you may need to consider applying to the court for an injunction (non-molestation and occupation order), to potentially exclude them from the property and to seek orders to prevent further domestic abuse.

Practical steps

Following separation, couples are encouraged to discuss matters between themselves, as long as there is no risk of harm i.e. violence or emotional abuse. It would be best for the non-resident partner to give prior notice that they intend to return to the property and not turn up announced. Commonly, the partner who has moved out will usually need to collect belongings from the property, therefore ideally this should be arranged to take place  at a prearranged date and time. 

If you require further advice regarding your rights please do get in touch with our team of experienced family lawyers on 01225 337 599. You can also email us at FamilyPA@stoneking.co.uk.