Is Entering My Prior Property a Criminal Act?

North Carolina has a number of laws to protect persons from a current or former spouse or those with whom the parties share minor children. The most familiar form of protection is a Domestic Violence Protective Order, which if ordered requires a party to stay away from and not contact the other party. There are also other protections for those “during the period of separation” even when physical or verbal abuse is not present.

When a husband and wife (or any persons in a romantic relationship) physically separate from one another, it often creates uncertainty about what access, if any, that party has to the home. This access is often complicated when the parties share children or in situations in which the party that moved out of the home retains some ownership right to it. It is not unusual for the party that has moved out of the home to return and enter the home unannounced and without approval.

Under North Carolina’s Criminal Domestic Trespass law, if a current or former spouse or anyone with whom you previously resided with as if married has moved out and the parties are “living apart”, if he or she enters the property or refuses to leave the property after being ordered by the occupying party, that party may be charged with a misdemeanor. North Carolina’s Domestic Criminal Trespass law, codified in N.C.G.S. § 14-134.3 provides relief and sets forth:

Any person who enters after being forbidden to do so or remains after being ordered to leave by the lawful occupant, upon the premises occupied by a present or former spouse or by a person with whom the person charged has lived as if married, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor if the complainant and the person charged are living apart; provided, however, that no person shall be guilty if said person enters upon the premises pursuant to a judicial order or written separation agreement which gives the person the right to enter upon said premises for the purpose of visiting with minor children. Evidence that the parties are living apart shall include but is not necessarily limited to:

(1) A judicial order of separation;
(2) A court order directing the person charged to stay away from the premises occupied by the complainant;
(3) An agreement, whether verbal or written, between the complainant and the person, charged that they shall live separate and apart, and such parties are in fact living separate and
apart; or
(4) Separate places of residence for the complainant and the person charged.

Once parties have separated, it is common for a letter to be sent stating that the party that moved out may not return without approval of the resident. If the party that has moved out does return without approval, he or she is subject to criminal charges.

An important exception to the Criminal Domestic Trespass law is provision allowing a party to enter the premises for reasons of exercising custody of their minor children, then they may not be held criminally responsible for such entry.

If you have questions about how North Carolina’s Criminal Domestic Trespass law may apply to your situation, please call us today at (704) 810-1400 to schedule a consultation.

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