QUESTION: I am the major breadwinner in our family and have been for years. I bought our home and it is registered in my name. My husband and I have two children — he also has two children from a previous marriage. This is my first marriage. Six months ago he lost his job and is making very little effort to find a new one.
He spends more time down the pub than ever and comes home in a mess. If I ask him to move out so that he can sort himself and his life out and he refuses to go, can I just change the locks in view of his behaviour?
ANSWER: Though you are the sole legal owner of your home, your husband has a right to live in the house because of your marriage, and so you cannot just change the locks. However, a court can remove that right, depending on how seriously harmful his behaviour is. It can make an occupation order, which may be temporary or permanent, and which can deny your husband his right to live in the house or can, for example, restrict him to just certain parts of the house.
When considering whether to make an occupation order the court must apply a “balance of harm” test, which requires the court to assess whether you and the children are likely to suffer significant harm attributable to your husband if he remains in the property and, if so, if that harm would be greater than the harm your husband would experience if he were to be removed from the property.
If the court decides that the balance of harm test falls in your favour (for example, if he became violent), an occupation order could be granted to remove your husband from the house.
WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?
If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email email@example.com or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually, but we will try to feature them here. Fiona McNulty is a legal director in the private wealth group of Foot Anstey.