Many otherwise happy marriages are ruined by extramarital affairs. A spouse may be devastated to learn about a secret relationship and respond by filing for a divorce. However, a divorcing spouse in North Carolina may be surprised to learn that they can file a lawsuit against the other man or woman for ruining their marriage.
North Carolina is one of a handful of states that allow for civil lawsuits for “alienation of affection and criminal conversion.” A North Carolina appeals court recently upheld the right of a spurned husband to file a lawsuit against a doctor who was having an affair with his wife. According to the judge who wrote the opinion, these laws are “designed to prevent and remedy personal injury, and to protect the promise of monogamy that accompanies most marriage commitments.”
Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversion
Under North Carolina law, the elements for alienation of affection include:
- The couple was happily married and the spouses had genuine love and affection for each other;
- The love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and
- The defendant's wrongful and malicious conduct caused the alienation and destruction.
When a spouse has a history of extramarital affairs or was actively pursuing the other woman or other man, it may be difficult to prove the defendant caused the destruction of a marriage. Additionally, an alienation of affection claim does not apply when the spouses have separated with the intent to remain separated.
Despite the challenges in proving these elements, hundreds of alienation of affections lawsuits are filed every year in North Carolina. In some cases, these lead to multi-million dollar awards. In 2010, a woman won a $9 million lawsuit against her husband's alleged mistress for breaking up their 33-year marriage. In 2011, an ex-wife was awarded $30 million in an alienation of affection lawsuit.
Alienation of Affection in Divorce
When a spouse discovers their partner is being unfaithful, it can lead to separation or divorce. In any divorce involving infidelity, the jilted spouse may have a claim for alienation of affection claim against their spouse's lover for ruining the marriage. An alienation of affection lawsuit will do little to repair troubled marriage; however, it may provide an award for damages caused by the defendant.
In a highly contested divorce, each spouse may use any tool available to fight for more property, more money, or child custody. Alienation of affection and criminal conversion lawsuits have been used as leverage in negotiations, to get something out of the divorce settlement in exchange for dropping the lawsuit. As a civil lawsuit, the alienation of affections suit would become public record, complete with any evidence or allegations against the parties involved. Even without filing the lawsuit, the threat of a civil claim may be enough to get the other spouse to offer up more property or money.
Jerkins Family Law
If you are in the middle of a divorce or separation and need advice on what to do next, Jerkins Family Law can help. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, Jerkins Family Law is committed to helping clients in a time of need. Visit our dedicated divorce page to see how we can help you. Jerkins Family Law can help you with all your family law needs. Contact us today and see how we can help.