July 26, 2018
“May I change the locks?” – Right to Privacy vs. Spousal Right to Access
Q: My spouse moved out but keeps coming back into the house. May I change the locks?
A: That depends on how your house is titled. If the house is titled in your name alone (meaning that the Deed for your house only has your name), you may legally change the locks, but if your spouse’s belongings are still in the home, you should discuss and agree on a date and time that your spouse (or someone on their behalf) can retrieve those belongings. However, if the house is jointly titled in your name and your spouse’s name, then your spouse has an equal right to access the house and go inside. One caveat to this general rule: If you are in fear that your spouse will return to the house and physically harm you or your child(ren) and has actually threatened to physically harm you or your child(ren), then to protect yourself and your family from harm, you should consider requesting a Protective Order from the court. I will discuss Protective Orders in a future blog.
If your house is jointly titled in your name and your spouse’s name and your spouse still has belongings in the house, the most efficient way to resolve the issue is to enter into a written agreement that states a date and time your spouse can come to the home to retrieve all of their belongings. The written agreement should also state that after that “retrieval” date, you will have exclusive possession of the house and your spouse may not enter the house without your written consent. The written agreement need not be witnessed, but it may be more enforceable if both parties sign before a Notary Public.
If you Lease your home, your landlord may allow you to change the locks with his/her permission if only your name is on the Lease. However, if your Lease contains both of your names, your spouse has a right to enter that home just as you do, so a written agreement stating otherwise should be signed.
If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement, then you may be able to file a Complaint for Divorce with the court, if you have proper legal “grounds” to do so, for example, desertion, adultery or cruelty of treatment. If you own your home, whether solely or jointly, the court will determine whether your home is marital property and if so, divide it accordingly. If you rent your home, there are different civil actions you can pursue, including eviction proceedings. However, the most efficient resolution to this issue so that everyone can move forward is by way of a written agreement, which can be reached with the assistance of a mediator or collaborative professional.
I am always trying to inspire my clients to reach their divorce and/or custody goals by providing insightful and empowering legal advice. I thrive on helping clients understand how to successfully navigate the changes in their family dynamics to preserve family relationships and achieve the best outcome possible for the benefit of their children. When I’m not helping clients, I am running around with my husband and our two young and extremely active children and our Pug, Wali.
DISCLAIMER: The materials available on this blog are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to your particular issue or problem.
About Wright, Constable & Skeen
WCS is ranked as a Tier 1 law firm by U.S. News & World Report in Baltimore in numerous practice areas. It is a full-service law firm representing businesses and individuals in national and local matters including: Commercial Litigation, Construction, Estates & Trusts, Family Law, Fidelity and Surety, Government Contracting, Health Care, Labor & Employment, Immigration, Insurance Defense, Intellectual Property, Bankruptcy & Creditors’ Rights, Maritime & Transportation, Real Estate, Mediation and Arbitration.
More of your questions answered:
July 12 – Leaving on a Jet Plane with the Kids? Not So Fast!
June 28 – 3 Things to Not Do In Your Custody Case
June 14 – Dads and Divorce: Keeping the Kids
May 24 – Are Custody Evaluations Worth It?
May 10 – A Better Way to “Consciously Uncouple” – Collaborative Divorce