In 2016, it’s hard to believe that living together could be illegal. Due to an old, outdated law, thousands of Michigan couples are technically committing a crime. That could change with a new bill that could make local families’ lives a lot easier.
Right now, thousands of Michigan families are breaking the law, just by living together. That’s because of a 1931 law that calls cohabitation “lewd and lascivious” behavior. And that’s a misdemeanor.
The law hasn’t been enforced in years. It is probably unconstitutional as an illegal invasion into a person’s right to privacy (just like anti-sodomy laws). But it’s still on the books. And that makes Michigan one of only 2 states that criminalize cohabitation. The other is Mississippi.
Now Senator Steven Bieda, a Democrat from Macomb County, has proposed a simple bill to eliminate the old law. Senate Bill 896 would eliminate the following words from the statute:
“Any man or woman, not being married to each other,who lewdly and lasciviously associates and cohabits together, …”
That’s it. It doesn’t eliminate the ban on gross lewdness or lascivious behavior. It just says the law doesn’t apply to cohabitation.
But if the law against living together isn’t being enforced, why get rid of it?
It turns out, Michigan’s law against cohabitation is creating a tax problem. The Internal Revenue Code allows a head of household to get a tax credit for the “dependents” he or she provides for. This includes children and spouses and “qualifying relatives,” which the law defines as:
“[A]n individual (other than the taxpayer’s spouse or child) who has the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer and is a member of the taxpayer’s household, if the person’s gross income is less than the amount of an exemption and the taxpayer provides over half of the person’s support.”
That could include an unmarried domestic partner. But the IRS will not allow a deduction if the person’s relationship violates local law.
That’s where SB 896 comes in. By eliminating the unenforced, probably unconstitutional law against cohabitation, SB 896 will free up thousands of Michigan families to claim tax deductions for the supported partners. That will put more money in the pockets of unwed couples and make their lives easier.
SB 896 should be a no-brainer for Michigan legislators. The only real question should be, “What took us so long?”
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family lawyer at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She represents families in divorce, custody, and paternity matters. If you have a family law problem, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.