Can I change the locks?
This is one of the top 10 questions I'm asked by new clients. The answer isn't real clear as so many issues need to be addressed before a spouse or parents decides to change the locks.
So long as your names are on the deed to the house (exclusively, or with your spouse), you have the legal right to change the locks on your house, much like you would do, if you lost your keys or just wanted new locks for your home. But sometimes in a divorce, the typical application of the law is abandoned by the Court 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 bad "legal" move.
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" means that all should stay the same as it was before the divorce started.
Most judges will consider the following: (1) whether or not changing the locks separates the other parent from the children; (2) did changing the locks come as a surprise to the other spouse; (3) had the spouse already moved out; and (4) what were the fact and circumstances to cause you to change the locks or how did that impact your spouse and the children.
Also, 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 yet 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.
If you have more questions about this issue or other issues about your case, feel free to call me for a free phone consultation.
Paul D. Nordini