Shacked out

News Hits recently learned that Michigan is one of seven states that still has a law on the books against “lewd and lascivious cohabitation.” To clarify: That’s the kind of living arrangement where you’re unmarried but getting it on with someone, not the kind of cohabitation you do with your mom (unless you live in a particularly weird household.) You’re probably thinking this is one of those holdover laws that could never be enforced. Wrong-o.

Just ask Christian Muller of Ferndale. The Michigan Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court ruling that bars any unrelated member of the opposite sex from spending the night at Muller’s house when his daughters Chloe, 7, and Claire, 5, are visiting, which they do every other weekend and for extended summer visits.

That order includes Muller’s live-in girlfriend, Michelle Moon. Moon and her 8-year-old daughter, Jade, moved into Muller’s Ferndale home a year ago.

Moving in together wasn’t a decision the couple took lightly, Muller says. It was a lifetime commitment.

The courts don’t see it that way.

The order was originally issued by Oakland Circuit Court in response to a request from Muller’s ex-wife. Upheld last month by the appellate court, the order hinges on two factors: the 1931 anti-cohabitation law, and what the lower court deemed a lack of a “affirmative belief” on Muller’s part — since Muller’s ex-wife believes it’s wrong for unmarried couples to live together, and Muller didn’t voice an opinion, her view trumps his.

The question of what’s best for the kids, including issues of morality, is made by judges on a case-by-case basis, says American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Michael Steinberg. But when it comes to the anti-cohab law, Steinberg says the solution is clear: “The law should simply be repealed. In the 21st century, it should not be a crime for unmarried people to live together. Although the law has not been enforced in the criminal context, it’s clearly being used in other ways to hurt individuals living together.”

Muller and Moon plan to appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court but, already strapped from their first two battles, they’re out of cash. The ACLU is currently reviewing the case.

In the meantime, Moon is forced to leave the couple’s home when the kids are visiting.

By now, you’re probably wondering why the couple don’t just get married and put the issue to rest.

“This is my life and I feel that cohabitation is a perfectly reasonable alternative to marriage,” Muller says. “I don’t believe in getting married for the wrong reasons. And a court order is not a good reason to get married.

“The piece of paper means nothing without the sentiment behind it. We have the sentiment, and that means a hell of a lot more than that piece of paper. But the piece of paper is all the court needs.”

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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