Alienation of Affection in North Carolina
North Carolina is one of the few states in the country that have retained the pre-revolutionary civil torts of alienation of affection and criminal conversation. The dictionary definition of the word "tort" is "a wrongful act resulting in an injury, loss, or damage, for which the injured party can bring civil action...." “Alienation of Affection” is the cause of action for a lawsuit that a spouse brings against a party outside of the marriage for breaking up the marriage. The boyfriend or girlfriend of the other spouse is usually the defendant in such lawsuit, although it is possible for a spouse to bring suit against other persons, such as in-laws. For example, one spouse's in-law who advised the other spouse to leave his or her marriage can find themself held liable in an alienation of affection lawsuit.
“Criminal Conversation” is the cause of action that a spouse brings against the girlfriend or boyfriend of the other spouse for having sexual relations with the other spouse prior to separation.
What Is An Alienation Of Affection Lawsuit?
These two causes of action (Alienation of Affection & Criminal Conversation) are usually brought in the same lawsuit, and there is a right to a jury trial. If a jury determines that a defendant committed either of these torts, it must then determine how much, if any, the plaintiff was economically damaged. These damages may include compensatory damages, designed to compensate the plaintiff for economic losses. They may also include punitive damages, designed to penalize the wrongdoer. In North Carolina, punitive damages cannot exceed three (3) times the amount of compensatory damages or two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars ($250,000), whichever is greater (See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1D-25).
Factors that often go into determining whether a lawsuit of this type is appropriate is the net worth of the defendant, the related collectability of any judgment, and the cost to the plaintiff of bringing the lawsuit. The law does not permit a plaintiff to specifically recover legal fees in this type of lawsuit (unlike in other family law claims, such as alimony or child custody), although if a monetary verdict is obtained against the defendant, such funds recovered can help offset the costs of pursuing the lawsuit.
Proof Of Alienation Of Affection In North Carolina
At an Alienation of Affection trial, the plaintiff has to prove three things:
- The plaintiff must show that the plaintiff and his or her spouse were happily married with some “genuine” love and affection between them.
- The love and affection between plaintiff and his or her spouse were alienated and destroyed.
- The loss of love and affection was caused by the “wrongful and malicious” acts of the defendant, which must have occurred prior to the separation of the spouses.
Action Must be Brought Within Three Years Of Last Act
There is a strict time limit within which a claim for Alienation of Affection or Criminal Conversation must be brought. The plaintiff must file such claims within three (3) years from the last wrongful act of the defendant. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52-13 (b) states as follows:
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.
How To File An Alienation Of Affection Lawsuit In North Carolina?
If you need to file an Alienation of Affection and/or Criminal Conversation lawsuit or want more information, please contact one of our skilled family law attorneys. Call us at (919) 816-9002 to schedule a consultation or contact us online and we will respond to you soon.