Couple moving in together

Is Cohabitation Before Marriage Illegal in North Carolina?

There are laws on the books of every state that sound out of date or at least surprising, like laws that bar unmarried people from living together before or instead of getting married. If you are living in North Carolina and dating someone, you might wonder, is cohabitation before marriage illegal in North Carolina?

Yes, living together as an unmarried couple is against the law in our state. North Carolina family law attorneys can explain your rights and advocate for you if you find yourself in a situation in which this law becomes an issue.

What Does the 1805 North Carolina Law Prohibiting Cohabitation Before Marriage Say?

Section 14-184 of the General Statutes of North Carolina reads:

“If any man or woman, not being married to each other, shall lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed and cohabit together, they shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor; Provided, that the admissions and confessions of one shall not be received in evidence against the other.”

This statute, enacted in 1805, remains on the North Carolina law books more than 200 years later. While it used to be commonplace for morality laws like this back then, only a handful of states in America still have anti-cohabitation laws.

What Are the Consequences of a Violation of North Carolina’s Anti-Cohabitation Statute?

If convicted, a person could get sentenced to up to two months in jail for a violation of §14-184, since that is the sentencing range for Class 2 misdemeanors in our state. A misdemeanor conviction would be on the individual’s criminal record and have to get disclosed on job applications and background checks that ask about criminal convictions.

In reality, as CBS station WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina reports, there are very few actual criminal charges filed under the “Living in Sin” statute. Prosecutors can go through their entire careers without handling such a case. In fact, since so many couples in America choose to live together but not get married, any number of court personnel working on one of these cases, including the judge or prosecutor, might be guilty of the same offense.

Are Anti-Cohabitation Laws Unconstitutional and Unenforceable?

Yes and no. As the case law currently stands, the “Living in Sin” law is unconstitutional because, in 2005, a North Carolina judge ruled that it was. That question has not yet been taken higher than the level of the Pender County Superior Court, so there is no answer to the question of whether other judges in North Carolina would also refuse to enforce the statute.

In 2007, there was a proposal to overturn this law, but the state legislature tabled the bill, rather than take further action on it. Since the North Carolina legislature has declined to remove the statute from the state’s law books, the “Living in Sin” statute remains and could get enforced. 

North Carolina family law attorneys can explain your legal rights and provide advice and guidance in many situations involving custody, support, divorce, and other family law issues. Contact our office today for a free consultation.