Authored By: Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a. " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "
I am separated from my husband. He moved out. He now comes and goes freely through our home, searching through drawers, taking things he wants or needs. He walked in the bathroom while I was in the shower the other day. His reasoning - he pays for the house - he can come and go as he pleases. I can't afford a lawyer. What rights do I have? I am entitled to some privacy aren't I? I live in RI.
You have two questions here.
Answering the question "What rights do I have?" would require a lot more information and hours of typing. This is because your rights in this type of situation are like a long trail of dominos with many branches and sub-branches. Therefore, I will answer your second question.
"I am entitled to some privacy, aren't I?" I agree that it isn't appropriate for your husband to be going through your drawers, etc.... if he has moved out of the house.
If his name is on the deed to the home and you do not have any court order requiring him to stay out of the marital home, then technically you are not "entitled" to privacy at the house since he is an owner. That is to say, you do not technically have a right to privacy in the house. Even if you were to lock him out, a person cannot be charged with anything if they break into their own house. Without an existing divorce or separation proceeding in motion with orders that may prohibit him from entering the home if he has a place of his own to live, he can come and go as he pleases and go through drawers of what might be considered marital dressers with marital possessions in them.
At this time, if only your name is on the deed, you have the legal right to change the locks because property law would say that you own the house at this juncture. Therefore, if your husband were to break-in and go through your things you could call the police and have him arrested. Keep in mind that just like getting a court order to keep your husband out of the house to give you some privacy, this could give rise to serious reprecussions if you don't think things out and a divorce or separation proceeding is filed or even if it isn't filed and your husband has control of things that could adversely affect you. Read on and you will understand. It has to do with what a man might do when he is angry. The same concept applies when a woman is angry, something that is commonly referred to as a "woman's scorn."
I'm sure this is not the answer you are looking for, but it is possible to move forward with an action in court to give you the right to privacy in the house where you live. Just keep in mind what repercussions might flow from getting an order keeping him out of the house. For example, if your husband pays for the house and he is angry at the actions you take then (1) he might stop paying or, if your husband provides you with money for food or with health insurance or auto insurance then he might stop contributing money for you to survive on or he might remove you from the health or auto insurance. These are only a few of the things that could happen. You need to always consider what could go wrong or what consequences might follow from any action you take. Please know that this answer is not a substitute for legal advice provided by an attorney who has met with you at length and has had the opportunity to advise you of all the likely things that might occur after he or she has been fully informed of your circumstances, your background, your options, and how you wish to proceed.
I know personally that these matters can be very annoying, scary and challenging. I wish you all the best in dealing with this difficult situation.