Changing the Lock – How can I keep my spouse out of the house?

Lee Rosen, retired divorce attorney and founder of Rosen Law Firm, covers the right way and wrong way to set a precedent for keeping your spouse out of the house, whether or not you change the locks, and what actions you can take if your spouse refuses to comply.

How Can I Keep My Spouse Out of the House?

How can I keep my spouse out of the house after they leave? This is a big problem. We’ve got a lot of situations where couples have separated. And let’s say wife stays in the house, husband has moved out. Wife really doesn’t want the husband coming and going, but he keeps showing up. He comes in one day. He takes the toaster oven because he needs a toaster oven. He shows up the next day and drinks a bottle of beer from her refrigerator, and it’s just not what she wants.

She thought when they were separating that that meant they were separating, and maybe he doesn’t see it in exactly the same way. Is there anything she can do to keep him out so that he doesn’t come and go all the time? Yeah, there is. I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy or pleasant, though. When you get into this situation, you’re heading down a path of some difficulty. So what do you do?

First of all, you give notice. Once your spouse has moved out and is living somewhere else, has their own residence, you say, “Look, don’t come back anymore.” And the best way to do that is to send a letter and to keep a copy. Sometimes, we’ll send them by certified mail. An email is okay, but you want something you can prove that you sent. If you have a lawyer, have that lawyer do it for you. That’s really ideal.

Once you’ve given notice, change the locks. Don’t leave the old locks with the old keys on the house. Go ahead and change it so that there’s no question that you really meant it when you said it. And then you need to be consistent about the message that you give. You can’t have your spouse coming and going for one reason and then telling them later, “Well, now you can’t come.” It needs to be that they can come or they can’t come. You need to stick to the message and not be changing it up on your spouse as you move forward.

And then finally, and this is where it really gets unpleasant, if they come after they’ve been told not to come, after they’re living somewhere else, you’ve changed the locks, you’ve been consistent, then you’re going to need to have them arrested. And you’re going to go to the magistrate’s office in your county and swear out a warrant for their arrest for a crime called domestic criminal trespass.

And they’re going to be arrested. And ultimately they’re going to be convicted of a misdemeanor unless they happen to have a weapon with them when they came in the house, in which case they’ll be convicted of a felony. It’s not a pleasant thing to do. There’s going to be a lot of tension, but that’s the way that you keep somebody out of your house.

I’m not going to tell you that having your spouse arrested is a pleasant or easy experience. And I’ve worked with many people that have had to go through this process in order to keep the separation separate. Not long ago, I represented a husband who had to have his wife arrested to keep her out. For whatever reason, she kept showing up even after she’d been told not to. At one point, she smashed the back door window in order to get in. So there was no question that she knew she wasn’t supposed to come back in the house.

You’ve got to be consistent. If you’re separating, you want to be separated. There’s a reason that this marriage is over. And I hate to have to advise anybody to use the process of having somebody arrested for trespassing, but sometimes it’s the only way to make this happen and to keep the peace and for everybody to be able to go on with their lives.

So while I don’t encourage this process and I hate to see you have to go through it, be aware that it exists. If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to make sure that when you’re separated, you stay separated.

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