If you’re running into conflict with your spouse, locking him or her out of the house may seem like an easy way to resolve the situation. However, as family law attorney Rebecca Wade explains — by locking out a spouse you could be breaking the law in Virginia.

“In Virginia, if you want to get divorced and you don’t have fault-based grounds for doing so, a separation period is required before you can file for divorce,” Wade explains. “So, if your spouse refuses to move out, locking them out is most likely not an easy or legal solution to the problem.”

“Most married couples in the United States who own property, own it jointly titled. In Virginia, you can’t simply lock a spouse out of a house if they are listed on the title,” says Wade. “And even if you are the only person listed on the title, you can’t lock out a spouse without warning. Under Virginia law, once a person has established a residence they have a right to be there. However, I have seen cases where the house is not jointly titled, one spouse moves out and then eventually wants to come back. And since the spouse had already moved out it was ok to change the locks.”

If you have a spouse who won’t leave, there are two routes you can pursue. “First, if there is a history of any type of domestic violence, you can seek a protective order to have that spouse excluded from the house,” says Wade. “The other option is to go to court and try to get a court order for exclusive use and possession of the residence. However, you must have previously filed for divorce to get that court order. If you don’t have grounds for divorce you’re going to have a difficult time. Additionally, if there isn’t a safety concern, judges tend to be disinclined to kick someone out of their home. The court often wants spouses to work it out on their own. But I’ve had cases where it becomes a standoff between two spouses. Neither one of them will leave and it becomes a real problem,” says Wade.

It’s important to discuss your legal options with an experienced Virginia family law attorney who can help you determine the best path forward for your specific case.