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Changing the locks

Ontario
ontario specific
legal information

What does the law say?

If you are married to your partner, the home the two of you shared is called the matrimonial home. The law says you each have an equal right to occupy that home, regardless of whose name is on the deed or the lease unless you have a court order or a legal agreement saying otherwise. This means you cannot legally change the locks on the house just because your partner has moved out.

If you have been living in a common-law relationship, occupation of the home you have been sharing legally belongs to whichever one of you has your name on the deed or mortgage. If both of your names are on either of these documents, then you both have a legal right to remain in the home.

How can you get an order to keep your ex-partner out of the family home?

In criminal court

If your partner has been criminally charged as a result of his abuse of you, his bail conditions can contain a provision that he not return to the matrimonial (family) home. You can speak to the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP) worker before the bail hearing to let her know you would like this condition. She can speak to the Crown Attorney, who will present a list of proposed conditions to the Justice of the Peace at the bail hearing.

Even if there is a condition keeping your partner out of the home, he will likely be given an opportunity to return, with police accompaniment, to pick up some personal belongings.

You should also remember that once the criminal case is over, the bail conditions come to an end. If the charges are dropped or your partner is found not guilty, he may have the right to come back to the family home.

In family court

You can apply for an order for exclusive possession of the matrimonial home. To get this order, you have to prove to the court that there is a good reason for this, so you will have to talk about the abuse you have experienced and why you are fearful that your ex-partner might try to come back into the home.

If you have children, you have to explain to the court why it is in their best interests that they and you remain in the home.

Getting an exclusive possession order has no impact on your ex-partner’s property rights to the home if it is owned. In other words, if you are married or if you live common-law and both your names are on the deed, your ex-partner still has a right to an equal share of the value of the home when you divide up all your property. The exclusive possession order is a short-term way to keep you safe by prohibiting your ex-partner from entering the home.

What about changing the locks?

key

Once you have an order that says your ex-partner cannot enter the family home, you may have the locks changed.

If you rent your home, changing the locks should be the landlord’s responsibility. Show them your order and ask that the locks be changed immediately. If your landlord is not prepared to do this, you can change the locks yourself, but make sure you leave the landlord with a copy of the court order to protect yourself.

Can my ex-partner still get into the house?

Sometimes, an ex-partner will call a locksmith and claim he locked himself out of the house and needs to get in. Locksmiths are supposed to see identification with that address on it before they let someone without a key into a house, but not all take this step. Even if the locksmith does ask for I.D., your ex-partner may still have identification with the family home address on it. If you are at home when the locksmith appears to let your ex-partner in, you can show them the order, which should be sufficient to keep your ex-partner out.

It is more likely that your ex-partner will try to get back into the house when you are not there. Here are some suggestions for what you can do to stop this from happening:

  • When you hire a locksmith to change the locks, leave a copy of the court order with them, and, depending on the number of locksmiths in your community, consider giving each of them a copy.
  • Post a copy of the court order or a note explaining that there is a court order in a window (posted on the inside) near each exterior door. You could include a telephone number of someone the locksmith can call to verify the information.
  • Consider installing a high security lock when you change your locks. These are very hard to pick, which makes it less likely the locksmith would be able to let your ex-partner back into the house. These locks are expensive, so if buying one is out of reach financially for you, call your local women’s shelter to find out where you might be able to get some assistance with this.

What if I still don’t feel safe?

These strategies can help you be and feel safer in your home once you have obtained an order that keeps your ex-partner out. However, there is no way to absolutely guarantee he won’t be able to get into the home.

To ensure you are as safe as possible in your home and in the community, work with your local women’s shelter to develop a plan for yourself and your children.

If you still do not feel safe in your home, consider going to a women’s shelter or a new address unknown to your ex-partner.

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