Law and Changing Patterns of Behavior: Sanctions on Non-Marital Cohabitation

Martha Albertson Fineman

Emory University School of Law


Wisconsin Law Review, 1981
Emory Public Law Research Paper

Cohabitation between unmarried persons has become increasingly common during the past two decades. Cohabitation may be a casual temporary relationship, an experimental stage preceding formal marriage, or an alternative to marriage and the various legal consequences that status carries.

This paper explores the legal system’s adjustment to these changing behavior patterns with the underlying assumption that as incident of cohabitation increase, cohabitation will eventually be viewed as both legally and morally acceptable. When cohabitation “goes public” legal institutions must resolve some of the conflicts which are presented.

The first part of this paper is an examination of the resistance to repeal of criminal laws punishing cohabitation. The conflict with other social values appears most clearly in the criminal area. As the second part of this paper demonstrates, the trends toward acceptance or cohabitation are visible in a variety of situations in the civil law. The changes in the civil area have been fashioned largely by the courts. Judges’ decisions are more shielded from the public view that are those of legislators, and, perhaps, it is this fact which allows change to take place more easily.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 58

Keywords: Cohabitation, dependence, public policy, marriage, victimless crime, reform, nonprosecutors, spouse, moral misconduct, alimony

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Date posted: August 20, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Fineman, Martha Albertson, Law and Changing Patterns of Behavior: Sanctions on Non-Marital Cohabitation (1981). Wisconsin Law Review, 1981; Emory Public Law Research Paper . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2132222

Contact Information

Martha Albertson Fineman (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-2421 (Phone)
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