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I often get asked by clients whether they can change the locks on the family home once their ex-partner moves out. This question is more complex than it first seems, and is very much dependent on the circumstances of the family.
If the family home was purchased in your sole name, and is registered at the Land Registry in your sole name, then you will usually be able to change the locks to the property without breaking any laws. This is because your ex-partner does not legally own the property. However, please be aware that this does not necessarily mean that they do not have any rights or claims over the property, including rights of occupation if you are married and financial and property claims under the Children Act if you have children together. Please contact a Solicitor at Sousa Law for more advice before you change any locks for the family home.
If the family home was purchased in your joint names, and is registered at the Land Registry in both of your names, then usually the locks should not be changed. This is because both of you legally own the property. If you do change the locks then your ex-partner is also legally able to change them and may choose to do so. This can lead to regular costly visits by locksmiths by each of you and a swift increase in hostility which is best avoided.
If the person who has permanently left the home is a joint owner of the property, then they should not simply let themselves into the home whenever they wish after they have left. The person remaining in the house is entitled to privacy and quiet enjoyment of the home. Therefore, the person who has left should only enter the house on reasonable notice (usually no less than 48 hours) to the other person to avoid costly and upsetting disputes. It is essential for you both to be courteous to one another, especially if you have children, and this issue is often one of the top causes of tension between parties on separation. Ideally contact between the children and the parent who has left the family home should take place away from the family home, and the parent collecting or dropping off the children should remain on the doorstep of the family home, unless invited in by the other. The person remaining in the family home can ask the other to return their key(s), and in return they should promise to give the other access to the home when they need it upon notice being given in advance. The important thing to remember is that they are still a joint owner of the property, and so cannot be prevented from accessing the property without a court order.
You cannot force a joint owner to move out of the family home. If a joint owner refuses to leave the house, then they cannot be forced to do so without a court order. A joint owner can only be forced to leave the family home by using the domestic abuse legislation and applying for an occupation order. Please see my earlier blog on Domestic Abuse for more information. If you have an occupation order, then you may change the locks and exclude the other owner from the property in accordance with the terms of the occupation order. However the other person excluded will continue to have all other property rights of ownership.
The top cause of tension between parties after a separation is trying to regulate living in the family home together. It is very hard to do this practically and most of all emotionally. It therefore often has a major toll on the whole family if both the parties decide to all remain in the family home together. I would therefore urge anyone thinking about all living in the family home together after separation to consider the risks very carefully for the sake of the whole family, in particular any children. It can be very hard to watch your ex-partner move on with their life. It can also be very hard for the children who often feel caught in the middle between you both, and constantly on edge in the home. Please remember that you will not lose any legal rights over the family home by moving out, you simply will not have the immediate access to it that you may have had by living there. However you should not move out of a home you own without first taking legal advice and fully considering all of the implications.
Please remember that this advice regarding the family home, occupation and changing locks also extends to garages, sheds, outhouses or summer houses.
Sousa Law are expert Divorce Solicitors in Southampton. If you require help and advice concerning divorce and financial settlements and would like to discuss how we can help you, please contact us on 02380 713 060 or firstname.lastname@example.org to book a Free Initial Consultation.
By Nicole Biggs
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