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Divorce Help | March 4, 2024

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Can I Change the Locks during a Divorce?


In most states, you are legally allowed to change the lock on your house at any time you want. However, this doesn’t automatically entitle you to exclusive property rights. When two people are married, they have equal rights to the house they bought together in most states. Therefore, homeownership will remain shared during a divorce until property division is decided, and according to Reno divorce lawyer Gloria Petroni, a judge or mediator of the parties will make final decisions about assets like residency during a divorce.

In short, yes you could change the locks of a house you are occupying, but your spouse is also then legally allowed to break into that house since he/she is still an owner. Before you change the locks on your house, ask yourself if your spouse will simply take the hint and never come back. Chances are, that isn’t going to happen. Changing the locks generally causes a nastier, more problematic outcome, and retaliation is very typical.

However, laws differ by state and there are a few different circumstances that may enable you to change the locks and prevent your spouse from legally entering.  Below are three examples of conditions that you may want to dive further into:

You Feel at Risk

When your well-being is physically or emotionally threatened by your spouse, you could request a court order to obtain ownership rights. States will vary in what they deem to be dangerous to one’s health. For example, some states will require there to be a domestic violence threat while other states may rule the friction between the couple is harmful to their well being. If there have been threats or actual intimidation or violence, you can order an Occupation Order which would prevent the person from accessing the property.

Sole Ownership of the Home

If only your name is on the register of the title or tenancy agreement, it becomes possible for you to change the locks during the time of a divorce in some states. This would generally be the case if you owned a home prior to marriage, but it does differ by state.  Additionally, most states will make you provide a notice to leave and any threats or force of leave that a sole owner may attempt can be a criminal offense. Similar to a typical rental situation, a notice will range from 30-60 days.

House was an Inheritance

If you inherited a home before or during a marriage, you retain exclusive rights to the home in most states.  Therefore, if you are going through a divorce, you may have legal rights to exclusively occupy the home. Similar to sole ownership, you would have to provide a move out notice to your spouse. However, in community property states like Nevada,  each spouse automatically owns half of what either person has earned during the marriage. It is important to evaluate the state you live in to determine inheritance rights.

Changing the locks without coming to an agreement with your spouse can be risky. Often this creates hostility, resentment and retaliation, which can affect the entire family. Consult with your attorney about the options you have if you want to change the locks of your house and actually keep your spouse from coming in.


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