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To change the locks or not?

 January 2019 |  Martin Fuller

When partners separate, it is a very common practice for the party remaining in the property to change the locks. This might be perfectly acceptable if the property is held in the sole name of the remaining party, but it is unlawful to change the locks on a jointly held property without a court order in place to support such an action.

It is often said, that the locks were changed to protect the remaining occupant from domestic violence, or to protect their privacy.  Fear of, or threats, of domestic violence should be dealt with by seeking a court order restricting the other party from entering the joint property and/or committing assault. An application to the court for an occupation order and/or personal protection order can be made on the same day, if need be.

An order of the court provides greater protection than changing the locks because the courts have the power to commit to prison any person who knowingly breaches an order of the court. A person is entitled to force entry to a property they own, even if jointly, in the absence of a court order, or contract, preventing them from so doing.

The right to privacy is usually dealt with by a sensitively drafted letter requesting the other party to respect the occupants privacy and as such not to access the family home without first agreeing a convenient time and date to visit and enter the family home.  If the letter is ignored a court order can be requested as above for an occupation and/or a personal protection order.

Experience shows that changing of locks is however often done for a less pragmatic purpose.   It is usually more of a symbolic gesture, or at least it can be seen in that light.  It can symbolise a number of things such as: the beginning of the end of the relationship; control over the jointly owned property and/or control and power over the joint owner, to name a few.

The very action of changing the locks, thus denying access to the joint property can have a far reaching negative emotional aspect.  For the other party, who may not have considered re-entering the family home, it symbolises: removal of their rights over the property; a wish to exclude them from the property and/or the family; and highlights their vulnerability at this point in time.

When feeling vulnerable and excluded in a highly emotional situation, a person can act irrationally and out of character.  This leads to bad feeling at best and at worst increases the emotional politics and acrimony between the parties, increasing and lengthening the time it will take to resolve the matters arising out of the separation and of course the legal costs quickly become disproportionate to the overall objective.

So think carefully before changing the locks on a jointly owned property.  What is your real objective?  Always seek independent legal advice before you take such a step as there are always other less contentious and lawful ways to resolve the issue you are facing.
Similarly, if you have recently separated and your ex-partner changes the locks on a jointly held property without your consent, seek independent legal advice. 

If you would like to find out more about mediation services with Fullers please contact reception on 01234 343134, fill in the contact form below, or email us at

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