Melissa Sheridan said she has about two years of probation left for welfare fraud in New York state. She moved to North Carolina a few months ago with her boyfriend, John Finger.
New York allowed her to leave the state with the assumption that North Carolina would supervise her probation, but North Carolina has refused because she and Finger live together, she said.
Terry Gootee of the 5th Judicial District's Division of Community Corrections said North Carolina routinely refuses to accept cases involving cohabitation.
"We cannot allow that person to violate the law," he said.
Gootee said cohabiting couples have three choices: Get married, move to another state or set up separate households.
New Hanover County Sheriff Sid Causey said he couldn't remember the last time someone was charged with cohabiting in the county, which includes Wilmington and had nearly 3,000 households of unmarried partners in the 2000 Census.
"It is still on the books. But it is almost impossible to enforce," Causey said.
Sheridan said she and Finger are each married to other people and cannot afford divorces. If they are forced to separate, Sheridan said, she will go on welfare until she can get a job to support her family.
Sec. 14-184 of the North Carolina statutes reads : "If any man and woman, not being married to each other, shall lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed and cohabit together, they shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor."
The statutes also contain a law against "opposite sexes occupying same bedroom at hotel for immoral purposes; falsely registering as husband and wife."
Cohabitation is illegal in a handful of other states.