Alienation of Affection

North Carolina is one of the few states that still has alienation of affection and criminal conversation laws. These cases are pursued when one spouse has an affair. The jilted spouse will often sue the guilty spouse’s lover for alienating the affection of the marriage. The innocent spouse can also sue any third party who causes the marriage to end.  Prior to the changes in the law in October of 2009, these cases most often begin when a couple is separating and in the process of getting divorced and one spouse begins dating someone before the divorce is finalized.  However, with the changes in law the couple must be married and not separated at the time the affair occurs.

To succeed on an alienation claim, the plaintiff has to show that (1) the marriage entailed love between the spouses in some degree; (2) the spousal love was alienated and destroyed; and (3) defendant’s malicious conduct contributed to or caused the loss of affection. The law provides a three year statute of limitations. This means that the injured spouse must file the lawsuit within 3 years of the act that alienated the affection of the marriage. You will note that the law does not require that the jilted spouse prove that the guilty spouse was having sex. While many divorce attorneys would like to see these types of laws abolished it is unlikely to happen anytime in the near future.

If you are are being sued for alienation of affection you should hire an attorney and defend yourself. As the following three cases demonstrate it is possible for the injured spouse to recover a significant award. In 2010, a jury in Guilford County ruled that a female paramour had to pay 9 million dollars in damages to the innocent spouse. In 2010, a Pitt County Superior Court Judge, presiding over a trial without a jury, awarded a 5.9 million dollar “bench verdict” to the innocent spouse. In 2011, Wake County Superior Court Judge Carl Fox ordered a 30 million dollar “bench verdict” in favor of the jilted wife. If you are considering filing suit against someone you should consider the cost and likelihood of winning a large verdict. While these cases do sometimes end in large verdicts, they also make it very difficult to proceed with the divorce in a peaceful manner.

§ 52-13. Procedures in causes of action for alienation of affection and criminal conversation.

(a) No act of the defendant shall give rise to a cause of action for alienation of affection or criminal conversation that occurs after the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s spouse physically separate with the intent of either the plaintiff or plaintiff’s spouse that the physical separation remain permanent.

(b) An action for alienation of affection or criminal conversation shall not be commenced more than three years from the last act of the defendant giving rise to the cause of action.

(c) A person may commence a cause of action for alienation of affection or criminal conversation against a natural person only.