How many women – or men for that matter – cheered for joy when they read or heard of Cynthia Shackelfordâ€™s successful suit where she was rewarded $9M from “the other woman” this March? After all, who ever heard of filing a tort action,Â called alienation of affection,Â for money damages Â against the third party in oneâ€™s deteriorating marriage?
Alienation of affection suits are quite rare because – as of 2003 – just eight states recognized this as a legal cause of action. Alienation of affection still appears to be a legal cause of action in the following states: Hawaii, Illinois , Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. The other 42 states started to abolish this tort action beginning in 1935, deeming it a an archaic but legal way to exact revenge.
But letâ€™s get back to basics.
An alienation of affection lawsuit is one in which a deserted spouse can sue the alleged third party if his or her partner leaves the relationship for another person and causes the marital relationship to fail. To prevail on the claim, the plaintiff needs to prove that:
- Love between the married spouses existed prior to the onset of the relationship; and
- The marital love was alienated and destroyed as a result of the relationship with the third-party; and
- The third party’s conduct was a malicious interference with the marital relationship.
The plaintiff need not prove that the third party set out to destroy the marriage. It is enough to show that she or he engaged in conduct that was foreseeable to impact the relationship in a negative manner.
The defendant in these cases can protect him or herself from the claim through several recognized defenses including:
- The Defendant lacked knowledge of the spouseâ€™s marital status
- The Defendant was not the aggressor in the relationship with the spouse.
- The Plaintiffâ€™s spouse was so unhappy in the marital relationship that it negated the love between the married spouses.
And, it turns out, adulterous homewreckers arenâ€™t the only ones that need to fear these suits in the eight states that still recognize them because the deserted spouse does not need to prove extramarital sexual contact. The defendant in an alienation of affections suit is typically an adulterous spouse’s lover; however, family members, counselors, therapists or clergy members who have advised a spouse to seek divorce may also be named in such suits.
These suits are not out of the ordinary in North Carolina, where an estimated 200 suits per year are filed and where several suits in the last decade resulted in awards of more than $1 million. The alienation of affection and accompanying criminal conversion causes of action are vigorously criticized by many legal scholars and trial lawyers, who see this as providing a judicial mechanism for personal vengeance. Supporters argue that the statute is necessary to protect traditional marital relationships.
What is your stance on the matter? Would you sue an adulterer for money damages? Why or why not?
Posted by Krystyna on April 22, 2010 at 12:52pm.