Can I change the locks?
Lawyer's secret: Spouses should be cautious when considering to change the locks of the marital home.
So long as you’re on the deed to the house (exclusively, or with your spouse), you have the legal right to change the locks on your house. But sometimes in a divorce, the application of the law is abandoned, and other variables must be examined to truly find the “real” answer. In this case, a spouse many want to reconsider what would otherwise be a "legal" move.
Most Judges don't like the idea of forcing a spouse out of the house, especially, if there are not many options for the spouse who is looking for a new (or temporary) home. The courts want you to be reasonable, and the status quo test usually applies. "Status Quo" being that all should stay the same as it was before the divorce started. If you fail the status quo test, you’ll be looked upon by the judge as the wrong doer, and that reputation will follow you through the entire divorce. So, where is the line?
It’s hard to say when a spouse would otherwise cross the line from being the squeaky clean spouse, to the spouse violating the status quo test. If your spouse went to run a quick errand, and upon his or her return, the locks where changed preventing access to clothing, personal items, and the like, I would say you failed the test. Getting cute by leaving clothes and items on the porch or lawn will hurt you in the courtroom. Being cute only hurts in court.
Alternatively, if your spouse has moved out, and has been out for some time where personal belongings have long been divided, I would say that you safely past the test. Scenarios in between these two ends of the spectrum are left for the court’s examination, but most attorneys would advise not to risk it. Ultimately, if you’re in court on the issue, you’ve likely bought yourself court activity that you don’t want and the attorney's fees that go with it.
Fees may be the least of your concerns. Some locked-out spouses simply wait for you to leave, and have the locks changed yet again. This then turns the table around and some spouses do this several times over until both are emotionally and financially exhausted with the game play. Also, be mindful that Locksmiths aren’t all that cheap, and combined with the cost of litigating the issue may not be work risk. Overall, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney when planning to change the locks on the house to best approach the issue with minimal impact to your case and to your checkbook.