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 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 must heed what we call the “dirt-bag test.”
This special test has no rules, and no case law to help define it. It really is a common sense sort of examination that the court will expect you to follow. If you fail the dirt-bag 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 dirt-bag spouse. 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 earns you the dirt-bag of the year award. The judge will not be smiling.
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 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. Just be mindful that Locksmiths aren’t all that cheap.