Can I change the locks on my house after separation?

It’s a common situation: a couple has been together for many years and owns a house together. The relationship ends, and somebody walks out to move in with friends or family.

But what if you’re the one left behind to care for the family home? Are you supposed to live with the constant uncertainty and emotional stress of your ex just waltzing through the front door whenever they feel like it?

And so, you ask: can I change the locks on the doors?

My answer is: maybe.

Let’s suppose you’re asking me this right at the point of separation. There are no lawyers, the courts don’t know you, and, in the calm of the next day, you want to control access to your home. In this situation, you remain an owner of the house. With that, you likely have the authority to call any locksmith you want and change any lock you’d like.

However, your ex also remains the home’s owner with an equal right to possession. Even if they aren’t living there, they likely have the legal authority to call a locksmith, install their own locks, and cause you a whole lot more stress.

This is a completely neutral zone with nothing stopping you and nothing stopping your ex.

But what if you want to change the locks, not just in a neutral zone, but with the law completely on your side? Well, you (or your lawyer) can make a court application for what’s called “interim exclusive possession of the family home”.

Interim exclusive possession of the family home is a technical legal phrase. Loosely translated into English, it means: “we need time to sort things out; but, while we’re doing that, you can keep living in the home and the other side isn’t allowed on the property without your permission”.

Make no mistake, the other person will still own the land. They have all the same rights as you do when it comes to selling the property. The only change is that they cannot come and go as they please.

If you go the court route, know that you can’t just snap your figures and call the courthouse for an appointment. There’s quite a bit of red tape to work around. You will need to properly serve the other side with a Petition to get the whole process started, likely including a Financial Statement and Property Statement. When that is done, you’ll need to draft a proper Affidavit and Notice of Application, making sure to comply with timelines. The whole process can be a headache, but it’s something our Family Law department knows inside and out.

If you’d like to get some legal advice on your own situation, not just a general reflection on the law, then ask to speak with one of our family lawyers. We’ll work with you, helping you feel safe living in your own home again.