Morality Clause: Prohibiting Cohabitation and Overnight Guests

By Michelle Hughes

Divorce Lawyer, Cordell & Cordell

Note: Read the other morality clause article discussing the use of morality clauses to prohibit the use of alcoholic beverages and/or illegal drugs during periods of custody with the child.

We live in a “Charlie Sheen World” where movie stars and musicians are celebrated for their bad behavior and poor choices.

With all of these outside influences, parents find that it is more important than ever to impart morals and values on their child even when the child is in the care of an ex-spouse.

This has led to an increase in “Morality Clauses” being included, by consent of the parties, in Marital Separation Agreements.

If the case proceeds to trial and the judge makes a decision, it is rare to see a judge include a Morality Clause in the final order. However, it may be done under some circumstances as discussed below.

Morality Clauses have been used for many years and are mostly known to prohibit cohabitation or overnight visits with the opposite sex until the parent engaging in the activity becomes remarried.

These clauses began in the Southern states where cohabitation by unmarried couples was illegal. Thus, it made sense to include the language in the Marital Settlement Agreement.

When the clause is used to prohibit cohabitation or overnight guests of the opposite sex, both parties need to understand that it is a two-way street. Typically, one party will not agree to include the language unless the other party also agrees to abide by the same terms.

Enforcement of these types of agreements can be a challenge. It can sometimes be hard to obtain evidence that one party has had an overnight guest in violation of the agreement.

Even if the party did have an overnight guest, the judge would need to find that there was some damage to the child.

Typically the party wanting to enforce the agreement also wants to modify custody to become the parent with sole physical custody. Unless the mother of your child basically has a different overnight guest a couple nights each week, you probably will not get the judge to modify the custody arrangement, but you may get more time with your child.

Cordell & Cordell has experienced and well-qualified family law attorneys located nationwide should you seek additional legal advice or representation in your divorce case.


Note: Read the other morality clause article discussing the use of morality clauses to prohibit the use of alcoholic beverages and/or illegal drugs during periods of custody with the child.


Mens divorce lawyerMichelle Hughes is an Associate Attorney in the Jefferson County, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell where she practices domestic relations exclusively. Ms. Hughes is licensed in the states of Missouri and Illinois, and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. A native to metro St. Louis, Ms. Hughes received her BBA in Economics and Finances from McKendree College. She later received her Juris Doctor from Thomas Cooley Law School where she graduated cum laude.

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12 comments on “Morality Clause: Prohibiting Cohabitation and Overnight Guests

    questions re: concerns over wife’s “other man”
    I am in the early stages of a divorce.
    I discovered that my wife has been having an affair for some time with an old boyfriend. We have two young children, ages 7 and 9. The “other man” is still married, but separated and estranged from his family.
    He has a criminal record – my understanding is that he spent time in prison on felony cocaine possession with intent to distribute – but that was perhaps 20 years ago. He is somewhat of a transient, has moved continually, is constantly losing jobs, and abandoned his family to pursue my wife.
    I actually confronted him a year ago when I first learned he was pursuing my wife, and told him to stay away from my family, as if he did not it would destroy my children’s lives. But he obviously did not – and obviously my wife wanted it that way. I just discovered a few weeks ago that the affair was full-blown, and am now divorcing her.
    So here’s my question – do I have any legal position to mandate that he “never” be in the company of my children?
    I will most likely allow my wife to stay in our home (buy me out if the finances work out that way), and start a new home of my own; we will split custody of the children.
    Can I work anything into the agreement that in exchange for allowing her to stay in the house, she can never allow him to be there while the kids are present, or otherwise introduce him to them?
    As you can tell – I’m kinda freakin out here.
    Any insights you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

    To answer your question, yes, a judge could restrict him from being around your kids if the judge felt his presence in some way threatened the safety or welfare of the children, or otherwise acted in a manner that was not in the children’s best interests. The likelihood of this happening though, would depend in large part on his background and history.

    If he were a sex offender, a drug abuser, or a career criminal, then the answer is likely “yes” the judge would restrict your wife from bringing him around the children. The best advice is to seek out competent legal representation, particularly from an attorney who practices exclusively in domestic litigation.

    Well my question is… What if you have an existing moral clause, and you are sure that it is being broken. How do you prove to the court it is being broken. I have two kids with my ex that I never married. Shortly after I filed for custody, I got remarried. She did not and starting seeing a guy. They have had 2 confirmed domestic spats that havent resulted in anyone even getting slapped on the wrist, but once my children were present. That is partly why I am concerned. She just had twins with this guy and they are cohabitating. How do I prove it though. He is a cop, so I can’t really just stake out his house. Help!?

    Enforcing Morality Clauses
    As with most cases, you need evidence to prove that it is being broken. If these “domestic spats” were confirmed, then does that mean there were police reports? Eyewitnesses? Recordings?

    Enforcement of these types of agreements can be a challenge and as mentioned, even if the party did have an overnight guest, the judge would need to find that there was some damage to the child. If children were present during one of their “domestic spats” then you need to find evidence in order to convince the judge that this even occurred and it is not in the best interests of the children. Since you state that this was “confirmed” there must be some sort of evidence you can present to the court.

    Consult with an attorney about the rules of evidence and what’s admissible depending on the laws in your jurisdiction.

    How do I prove it?
    what type of evidence is needed to prove that one party has had an overnight guest in violation of the agreement?

    Stopping alamony due to Cohabitation clause
    My seperation agreement states alamony shall be terminated upon wife’s cohabitaion. My x-wife’s fiance has been spending weekends with my wife and childern (ages 9&12) on a regular basis. Does this constitue cohabition in NC?

    E.G.: They eat meals together, do yard work, walk the other’s dog, share or trade use of each other’s cars, attend family functions together and or otherwise engage in other day to day activities with one another that would be considered similar to those of married persons.

    How do you fight a temp ‘no opposite sex overnights’ order in ultra-conservative NC when you are already divorced?!
    I am in NC and already divorced for 5 years with a standing temporary order not to have any overnights w/ persons of the opposite sex while I have my children in my care(financial issues are still pending tks to lousy attorneys). How can I fight this being made a part of the permanent and final order?

    My significant other is still in the process of his divorce and his ex got lawyer which has pretty much forced him to find one. With all of that being said he could not afford to get a attorney along with paying her $350 a month in child support and paying all his bills for his residence. So him and I moved in together. Since that has happened she is now denying him overnight visits and is constantly calling him non stop trying to pick fights and bad mouthing him in the presents of their children. She is now taking him back to court because of the “overnight guests” clause. The only catch is I am not a guest in my own home and he moved in with me. What should his next steps be? We are right now saving up for a lawyer, but until then what do we do? Help!!

    I’m divorced and remarried my ex husband isn’t and has a woman living with him and our 3 kids what can I do

    I live in the state of Colorado I am still legally married separated in Nov last year after I found out my husband was yet again cheating on me and after 10 years of physical and mental abuse.
    he now lives with this girlfriend. After we separated he stopped showing up to see his children for over a month when he finally came back around he immediately introduced his girlfriend to them this obviously affected them emotionally. We went to mediation and agreed we will not have overnight visits from sig.others until he had a 2 bedroom apartment, an attorney told me if this case goes to hearing during the divorce no judge will grant this regardless of him not having a two bedroom apartment. Is this true? why would I need to prove that is not to the best interest of my children? and that is morally wrong as of today he is committing adultery leaving with his girlfriend I feel like he’s already exposed to children enough.
    He has admitted before that when he told my daughter he wanted them to meet his new girlfriend her immediate response was I don’t want to meet her ever.

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