North Carolina is one of only a few states that recognizes the tort of alienation of affection. Alienation of affection allows a spouse to sue a third party for wrongful acts that deprived him or her of the love and affection of his or her spouse. While this tort can be used to sue any third party, including meddling in-laws, it is typically used to sue a spouse’s paramour (extramarital romantic partner). A business or company, however, cannot be sued in North Carolina for alienation of affection.
Can I Sue for Alienation of Affection in NC?
In order to be successful in an alienation of affection lawsuit, you must prove the following elements:
- You and your spouse were in a valid marriage with genuine love and affection;
- The love and affection between you and your spouse was destroyed and alienated;
- The wrongful and malicious behavior of the third party was the cause of the destruction and alienation of your spouse’s love and affection;
- The wrongful and malicious behavior occurred prior to the separation of you and your spouse; and
- The alienation damaged you (i.e., led to the dissolution of your marriage, separation, depression, economic loss, etc).
How do I show my spouse and I shared love and affection before the affair?
To show that you and your spouse were in a loving marriage, you should gather and preserve items such as cards, letters, notes, photos, home videos, social media posts, and other documents that will help to show that genuine love and affection was present during the marriage. Make a list of the kinds of behaviors your spouse engaged in before the interference of the third party: bringing you flowers, making you a special meal, surprising you with your favorite treat, rubbing your sore muscles, etc. You should also be prepared to ask your family and friends who knew you and your spouse during your marriage to testify about the loving and affectionate behaviors they witnessed between you and your spouse before the interference of the third party.
How can I prove that the third party caused the destruction of my marriage?
There are many reasons why a marriage might fail. Alienation of Affection is reserved for those marriages where the parties would still be together and in love if not for the interference and wrongful behavior of someone else. It is not necessary that you prove your spouse and the third party engaged in a sexual relationship during the marriage, but rather that the actions of the third party alienated your spouse’s love and affection. Making excessive telephone calls, sending sexy texts or emails, arranging secret rendezvous or private meetings: these kinds of behaviors could be sufficient for a jury to find that the person knew or should have known his or her actions might cause harm to your marital relationship. If you do have proof of a sexual relationship between your spouse and a paramour during the marriage – and prior to any period of separation – it is presumed that the paramour’s behavior of having a physical relationship with your spouse was malicious and done with the knowledge it might cause harm to your relationship.
What if my spouse moved in with this other person right after we separated?
While the third party’s wrongful behavior needs to have destroyed
the relationship prior to your separation in order to claim alienation
of affection in NC, post-separation actions which are suspicious may provide
evidence that a relationship was occurring during your marriage and before
the separation. A sudden, intimate relationship with a friend or co-worker
which occurs immediately following separation and moves undeniably fast
can be used as evidence that those texts, lunches, weekend retreats, or
nights working late with that third person were actually wrongful and
malicious actions which seduced your spouse’s affections away from you.
What arguments might be brought against me if I sue for alienation of affections?
Some possible arguments the defendant might bring against you could be that you have invaded his or her privacy, for example, if you hired a private investigator to report the third party’s behavior, or that you are engaging in malicious prosecution (e.g., if the third party claims you are using the lawsuit for an improper purpose – such as jealousy, revenge, etc. – and without sufficient proof of a real legal claim for alienation of affection).
It is also important to consider what possible defenses that a third party may bring up in an alienation of affection case. Some possible defenses are consent, separation, or the statute of limitations. These defenses, if proven, may give the third party the upper hand. If you consented to permit your spouse to have an affair with the third party or if you encouraged their relationship, you will likely be unsuccessful in a claim for alienation of affection in NC. You will also likely be unsuccessful if the relationship between your spouse and a third party occurred entirely after you and your spouse already separated (i.e., began living separate and apart with the intention to remain separate). Finally, a valid claim for alienation of affection must be filed within three years from the time the last wrongful act occurred or the claim will be barred by the statute of limitations, so if you believe you have a possible claim, you should not wait before talking to a certified family law specialist.
What damages would I be entitled to if I’m successful?
To be the winning party in an alienation of affection case, along with the other elements, you would need to show that you are entitled to compensatory damages. Some examples of compensatory damages you might have suffered include: loss of your spouse’s income and half of your property; emotional distress requiring therapy; your emotional state affecting your job or ability to earn, etc.
Compensatory damages compensate or reimburse you for your actual losses. Additionally, if the actions of the paramour were especially shocking or heinous, you might be awarded punitive damages which are meant to punish. Theses damages – both compensatory damages and punitive damages –are both monetary damages (requiring the defendant to pay you compensation).
One of our skilled attorneys can help you consider whether the third party has assets, income, property, or an ability to pay you monetary damages before you undertake the expense of a lawsuit against that person.
Now what should I do?
Pursuing a claim for alienation of affection can be stressful, costly, time-consuming, and emotional. There are many factors that should be weighed. To aid in your decision about whether to file a claim for alienation of affection against a third party, contact the experienced North Carolina family law attorneys at Montgomery Family Law at (919) 348-2317 to arrange for an initial consultation.