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Lock Legalities

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Breakups are always sad and frequently messy. As a result, you may want to change the locks on your apartment or home after your spouse or significant other moves out. Legally, you may not be able to do so until things are settled by the court. Before you call the locksmith, you need to know your rights.

Family Home

When one partner of a marriage or civil union moves out, you may legally be able to change the locks if the move was voluntary and meant to be permanent. For instance, in North Carolina, a move of that sort usually means that your partner has forfeited the right to return without your permission or permission of the court. If, however, your ex left stating the move was temporary, the situation is more complicated. Your partner may still be able to return to the family home and their possessions. If you do change the locks under those circumstances, your estranged partner can contest the action in court. Also, locking out your soon-to-be ex is likely to escalate the situation, something that will benefit no one and possibly weaken your legal position.

If domestic violence is involved, you can have your lawyer file for an order of protection, which would require that your partner keeps their distance. Otherwise, in many states, the family home remains the family home until things are legally finalized.


Roommate eviction is a different matter, and it also varies from state to state. If your name is not on the lease, you will be vulnerable to eviction. If your name is on the lease and your partner's is not, you can do the evicting, but you need to check state law to see what rights your roommate has. If they have been contributing to the rent and expenses, they have some standing in your residence. Kicking them out and changing the locks is neither fair or probably legal. They deserve notice and an opportunity to reclaim their possessions. If you fear some of your property may be taken when they move out, secure it elsewhere or in a separate room that you can lock. Just make sure that room only contains your items.

Severing the bonds of a relationship are not simple and neither is altering your living arrangements. As satisfying as it might be to simply kick out a partner and change all the locks, you need to do some research before you call the locksmith. Your relationship may be over, but they still have rights. Make certain that you do things the legal way to protect you both. Consult with a family lawyer for more information or assistance.