Article 134- Cohabitation, Wrongful
Paragraph 69 (Article 134) of the Manual of Court Martial concerns wrongful
cohabitation. The text of the article says that any neglect or disorder
that is against the discipline or good order of the armed forces, or any
conduct, the nature of which can bring discredit to the armed forces will
be punishable by a court martial.
According to Bouvier's Law Dictionary, the judicial definition of 'wrongful
cohabitation' is, 'the state or act of two individuals (man and
woman) who are not married but living together in the same dwelling and
behaving as spouses'.
The word cohabitation means 'to live together'. It may be that
an enlisted member is residing with the other person in the same family,
or they are living together as lawful spouses. In that case, it becomes
The fact that the enlisted member was not married to the other person is
indispensable to prove this offense. It may be that an enlisted member
is in fact married to the other person but the couple have not shared
this information with others. An outsider may think that they are behaving
as husband and wife while he thinks they are not and will therefore complain.
If the enlisted member is charged with wrongful cohabitation in this case,
he can use his hidden marriage as a defense.
Elements of Paragraph 69 (Article 134- Cohabitation, Wrongful)
- The defendant and another person publicly and openly lived together as
spouses and held each other as such.
- The other individual was not actually the spouse of the defendant.
- In the circumstances, the defendant's conduct was against the discipline
and good order expected of enlisted members or the nature of the conduct
was such that it brought discredit to the armed forces.
According to an article that appeared in USA Today in 2005, more than 2/3
rd of all married couples in the U.S have lived together before their marriage.
Before 1970, it was illegal to cohabit in the U.S. Clearly, times have
changed. But the U.S armed forces hold their personnel to a higher standard.
But unless an enlisted member introduces another person as his wife or
husband (willfully gives that impression) when he is not married to that
person or is causing a ruckus in his command with his behavior, there
should not be a problem.
If an enlisted member is cohabiting with someone from his command, it might
be enough to charge him under 'discipline and good conduct' issues.
There might also be trouble if one of the individuals in the relationship
is a subordinate. If an enlisted member is cohabiting with his partner
on military provided accommodation, for instance, if he is living on base,
then too the military might have a problem.
Maximum punishment for wrongful cohabitation
The maximum punishment for this offense is four months of confinement and
forfeiture of 2/3
rd of pay month for up to four months.
Explanation for certain elements in the paragraph
The offense of wrongful cohabitation is different from the offense under
Paragraph 62 (Adultery). In the former, the prosecutor does not have to
prove that the enlisted member or one of the enlisted members was married
or that the couple have engaged in sexual intercourse.
It is not even necessary to show that the couple's relationship was
in public knowledge, but the prosecutor has to prove that the couple have
behaved in a manner (exhibited by their language or conduct) that led
others to believe that they were in a marital relationship.
Note that the military does not recognize same-sex marriages. This offense
only applies if an enlisted member is living with the other person as
'husband and wife'. This crucial element is missing in the case
of same-sex partners. Therefore, wrongful cohabitation in the current
form, does not apply to same-sex relationships.