It is unfortunate, but true that many divorces are caused by the the infidelity of a husband or wife. North Carolina is one of only a few states that still recognize legal claims that allow an injured spouse to sue for money damages based on allegations of harm to the marital relationship caused by a third party. These claims are for “alienation of affections” and “criminal conversation.” In order to succeed in an action for alienation of affections, the innocent spouse must prove that:
- A marriage existed between the plaintiff and his/or her spouse;
- The marriage entailed love and affection between the spouses;
- The love and affection was destroyed;
- The defendant’s malicious conduct contributed to or caused the loss of affection; and
- The plaintiff suffered injury and damages.
The injured spouse need not show that the defendant intended to destroy the marital relationship, nor that the defendant’s conduct was the sole cause of the loss of affection. The injured spouse just has to show that the defendant was the controlling or main cause of the loss of affection between the spouses.
Actions for alienation of affections are generally brought by the innocent spouse against the paramour of the guilty spouse, and do not require proof of sex. In fact, telephone calls and emails may be sufficient to subject a non-resident to the jurisdiction of North Carolina courts for purposes of a suit for alienation of affections.
Unlike alienation of affections, a claim for criminal conversation does require adultery or sexual intercourse between the defendant and the plaintiff’s spouse. In order to succeed on a claim for criminal conversation, the plaintiff must prove:
- Existence of a valid marriage between plaintiff and the adulterous spouse;
- A sex act between plaintiff’s spouse and the defendant; and
- Defendant suffered injury and was damaged.
North Carolina juries have often been generous in alienation of affections and criminal conversation cases. In August 1997, a Greensboro jury returned a $1 million verdict against the secretary of the husband in a case for alienation of affections and criminal conversation. In that case, the husband left the marital home to live with his secretary. The husband subsequently divorced his wife and married his secretary with whom he had been living prior to his divorce. In that case, the jury awarded the wife damages based upon her loss of income, life insurance, and pension benefits, as well as, her suffering loss of consortium, mental anguish, and humiliation.
North Carolina remains among the small minority of states that recognize causes of action for alienation of affections and criminal conversation. The potential size of a favorable verdict may vary depending on multiple factors including length of the marriage, the egregiousness of the defendant’s conduct and the length of time over which it has occurred, the conduct of the plaintiff during the marriage and actual damages such as medical or psychological treatment costs and loss of income in addition to humiliation and emotional harm among others; however, not every case of alienation of affections or adultery will merit bringing a claim.
By: Carole Gailor – Raleigh Divorce Lawyer – Gailor, Wallis, Hunt, North Carolina Divorce Lawyer