The short answer is No. The law in BC does not automatically entitle one spouse to change the locks on the other following separation. Both parties are entitled to reside in a family home, even after separation, pending an agreement between them or a court order.
As you both are entitled to live in the house, you might argue that there is technically nothing stopping you from changing the locks while your ex is away at work. However in our experience as Vancouver family law lawyers, this is not how you want to start out your divorce or separation. Your ex may end up calling the police which may cause you unnecessary embarrassment or worse, emotional trauma if children are involve
Your locked out spouse may decide to bring an emergency court application for access to the house or exclusive possession of the spouse. In these scenarios the court may not appreciate you taking matters into your own hands and you may find yourself locked out. (This is pending a very good reason for taking unilateral action, such as domestic violence).
Prior to changing the locks on your ex during separation, it is best that you first speak with an experienced Vancouver family law lawyer. We can help you understand and execute your best options prior to you needing to take unilateral action, such as changing the locks on your ex. Contact us now on 604.620.8682.
Want your ex out of the house? Here are two good options:
1. Agree with your ex;
2. Get a court order for exclusive possession of the matrimonial home.
1. Agree with Your Ex
It is always a good idea to try and resolve matters with your ex during divorce and separation, if at all possible. Having a discussion with your ex prior to changing the locks during separation may save you unnecessary drama (and unnecessary legal bills!) down the track. It is advised to get an agreement in writing to avoid either party later going back on their word, and have a Vancouver family law lawyer review the agreement prior to signing.
If your ex agrees to move out, this doesn’t mean they can then come-and-go from the house at will. If they need to return to the matrimonial home for any reason, such as collecting personal items, they will need to give reasonable and adequate notice. It is also best to agree on what items your ex may take from the home when he or she moves out, and that the locks can be changed.
Changing The Locks at Separation and Children
If you have children, then coming to an agreement to move out and change the locks at separation may be more difficult. Often the parenting arrangement at separation can set a “status quo” for what the parenting arrangement will be viewed as “most stable” for the children in the future. Moving out of the matrimonial home should not be used by one party as a means to stop the other party from seeing the children or setting an overly restrictive parenting schedule.
If children are involved, it is best that both parties speak to a Vancouver family law lawyer so that a interim parenting schedule can be established at separation. Most parties want to make sure they have 50.50 custody of the children even when they have moved out of the matrimonial home, however, there is usually a period of time where one of the parties needs to get set up in suitable housing. Talk to our Vancouver family law lawyers and check out our blog on shared and equal parenting arrangements.
2. Obtain a Court Order for Exclusive Possession of the Matrimonial Home
Section 90 of the Family Law Act allows the courts to make an order for one party to have exclusive possession of the family home.
An applicant asking the court for an order of exclusive occupancy must satisfy the court of the following:
- Shared use of the matrimonial home is a practical impossibility; and
- On the balance of convenience, they are the preferred occupant.
It is not enough to show that you are incompatible with your spouse to established that shared use is practically impossible. While it may be unpleasant to live under the same roof, you will need to demonstrate a more compelling reason. Not having an extra bedroom / basement suite or suitable continued living arrangement as separate spouses under the same roof may satisfy the court. An exclusive occupancy order will usually be granted where continued shared occupancy by both spouses would be damaging to the children.
We hope this article answered some of your questions regarding how to go about changing the locks on the matrimonial home during separation. If your going through the separation and divorce process, we strongly recommend you speak to our Vancouver family law lawyers. Our Vancouver family law lawyers will provide you with a tailored case strategy to deal with all your issues relating to home possession. Contact us now on 604.620.8682.