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Can I Change The Locks Before My Divorce Is Finalized?

Can I Change The Locks Before My Divorce Is Finalized?

September 19, 2023

By Johnson/Turner Legal

Can I Change The Locks Before My Divorce Is Finalized?

September 19, 2023

By Johnson/Turner Legal

You filed for divorce in Minnesota, and your soon-to-be ex-partner is already sleeping at their friend’s or parent’s house. You are ready to move on, so what is the harm in changing the locks on your home? Turns out, moving on after your ex moves out by changing the locks on the marital home may land you in hot water with the court.

In certain circumstances, the court may give you a pass for doing something as drastic as changing the locks. If these limited circumstances do not apply, it is best to ask your divorce lawyer to get permission from the court before you permanently keep your ex from returning to the home.

It Is Not Your House Until the Court Says It Is

The problem with changing the locks on your marital home to keep your ex out while the divorce is still pending has to do with the house’s legal status. While you and your ex were married, you both had a possessory interest in the home. This meant that you both had an equal right to live in and use the home as you saw fit.

This legal right is not extinguished just because one of you files for divorce. Instead, what happens is that your home and other property acquired during the marriage become part of your marital estate. As part of the final orders made by the court, the court will divide the assets that comprise the marital estate in a fair and equitable manner.

Until the final order is entered awarding you the home as your separate property, though, changing the locks deprives your ex of the possession and use of the property to which they have a legal right. If your ex still has personal property inside the home, changing the locks also deprives them of this property.

What a Court Will Do If You Change the Locks

If you do decide to alter the locks and there is no legal justification for doing so, the court may order you to provide your ex with keys to the home. Alternatively, the court could direct you to vacate the home and award temporary custody and possession of the home to your ex.

Finally, the court could penalize you with a fine through its contempt powers or award you a smaller share of the marital estate, depending on the effects and willfulness of your actions.

Situations in Which You Can Change the Locks

There are two sets of circumstances under which you can change the marital home’s locks before the divorce is finalized. In either situation, you will want to ensure the permission to do so is in writing so as to avoid any potential problems later:

Your Ex Consents to You Living in the Home and Changing the Locks

First, if your ex agrees to allow you to live in the home and consents to the locks being changed, it is likely okay to do so. If your ex has a divorce lawyer, make sure to have your divorce lawyer contact your ex (or their attorney if they have one) so that a consent agreement can be drawn up and signed by you and your ex.

The Court Gives You Permission Through a Court Order

Secondly, if your divorce lawyer petitions the court and the court grants you permission to change the locks, you can do so. In this situation, your ex’s consent would not be relevant because the court would have considered any arguments your ex might have had in making its rulings. Again, be certain that the court order is reduced to writing to avoid future problems.

Changing the Locks Due to Fear of Safety

Suppose that you are fearful of your ex coming back to the house while the divorce is ongoing and committing acts of abuse against you. You will want to discuss this delicate situation with your divorce lawyer. At the very least, your attorney can petition the court for an emergency order permitting you to change the locks.

However, depending on the circumstances, leaving the home and staying somewhere else may be a safer and easier option for you than changing the locks on the marital home.

Contact an Experienced Minnesota Divorce Lawyer Today

If you need to get out of a bad relationship or have questions about what you can or cannot do during a divorce, call us at Johnson/Turner Legal. We can represent your interests and help you seek a successful conclusion to your divorce. Call us to schedule a Quick Guidance Call with our divorce team.


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