Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Michigan “Lewd and Lascivious Cohabitation” Law

There is an ongoing case in Michigan regarding whether a divorced parent can have their significant other "sleep over" when the children are present.

While I don't necessarily see any need for such "sleep overs" in the presence of your children - I certainly take issue with the state of Michigan dictating who can or cannot sleep in ones own residence.

The case in question involves two children - ages 5 and 7. The thought of a parent going to court in order to be able to have a boyfriend/girlfriend sleep over while the children are staying overnight - I find to be pretty sick. Why would you want to force this on your child? If you feel so strongly about your new "family unit" than legally formalize it. Otherwise, this could as easily result in a different person sleeping over with your kids a few months down the road.

However, I also realize that our society (men in particular) are becoming slightly gun shy about marriage. This case involves a father who is sharing a residence with his girlfriend. Why should the courts be able to force her to leave her home in order for him to have his legal visitation?

All in all I think the law sucks. But I can't help wondering what kind of parent would so forcefully try to bring this into his home - which is obviously also his children's home.

The impetus of the legal action was the man's ex-wife who asked the courts to forbid overnights with both the girlfriend and the children in the home. As noted in the article, mom admitted to cohabitating with dad before they married. Pretty sick, huh?

Here are excerpts from the article:

It's the law that's lewd, not the action

Christian Muller, a divorced father of two young daughters, is challenging a Michigan law passed in l838 that makes it illegal for his live-in girlfriend to remain in his house while his two daughters, ages 5 and 7, are visiting.

Muller shares legal custody of his two daughters with his ex-wife. When he became involved in a committed relationship after the divorce, his ex-wife asked the court to forbid him from having overnight visitation with his children when his girlfriend, Michelle Moon, was present. (In an ironic sidelight, his wife admitted that she and her ex-husband cohabited before they married.)

Michigan made "lewd and lascivious cohabitation" a crime in l838, the same year it made marriages between blacks and whites illegal. In l883, the Michigan Legislature repealed the restriction against interracial marriage, and has recently repealed many other archaic laws. The law on "lewd and lascivious cohabitation" remains; only six other states have similar laws.

While there doesn't seem to have been a decision upholding a criminal prosecution under the law since 1925, this month the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld an order by Oakland Country Circuit Judge Daniel Patrick O'Brien, forbidding Moon from spending the night when Muller's children were present. Court orders against "unrelated overnights" are common in Michigan.

"By forcing the woman that I share my life with to leave our home sends the message that daddy is doing something bad, daddy is doing something morally wrong," Muller said in a statement last month. "This court order undermined my rights as a parent, as an adult, and as an American with the right to choose how to live my life."

"The unfounded restriction they have put on my parenting time has done nothing but cause confusion, resentment, physical and psychological hardship and distrust, which affects the whole family," he added.

Muller and Moon still live together; when the children visit, Moon sleeps in her car or his van or sometimes at her parents' home.

Lawyers for the ACLU are appealing the case in Muller's behalf to the Michigan Supreme Court. According to the ACLU brief, "If courts are permitted to restrict divorced parents from living with both their unmarried partners and their children without evidence that this restriction is justified by the interests of the children, it will either undermine their ability to move toward permanent loving relationships or their efforts to fully include their children in their lives."

If the Michigan Supreme Court agrees to take the case, privacy rights will be key, according to Michael Steinberg, the ACLU's legal director.

In a recent Detroit Free Press article on the case, Thomas W. Blume, a Bloomfield Hills licensed marriage and family therapist and Oakland University professor, points out that society's view of cohabitation has shifted radically in recent years. While cohabitation still offends some religious conservatives, "it is now seen by many [others] in society as a normal way of life and often as a pathway to marriage," Blume said.

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