What is Alienation of Affection?
North Carolina is one of only a few states recognizing the tort of alienation of affection. Alienation of affection allows a spouse to sue a third party for wrongful acts that deprived them of the love and affection of their spouse. While this tort can sue any third party, including meddling in-laws, it is typically used to sue a spouse’s paramour (extramarital romantic partner). However, a business or company 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 were 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, videos, posts, and other documents that will help show that genuine love and affection were present during the marriage. In addition, 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. It would be best if you also were prepared to ask your family and friends. They 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 destroyed my marriage?
There are many reasons why a marriage might fail. Alienation of Affection is reserved for marriages where the parties would still be together and in love if not for someone else's interference and wrongful behavior. 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 behaviors could be sufficient for a jury to find that the person knew or should have known their 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 before 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 to claim alienation of affection in NC, suspicious post-separation actions may provide evidence that a relationship was occurring during your marriage and before separation. For example, 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 their 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. Without sufficient proof of an actual legal claim for alienation of affection).
It is also important to consider what possible defenses 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. For example, if you consented to permit your spouse to have an affair with a third party or if you encouraged their relationship, you will likely be unsuccessful in claiming 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 to remain separate). Finally, a valid claim for alienation of affection must be filed within three years from when the last wrongful act occurred, or the statute of limitations will bar the claim. 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. For example, some compensatory damages you might have suffered include loss of your spouse’s income and half of your property, emotional distress requiring therapy, 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. These compensatory and punitive damages –are monetary (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.
How Successful Are Alienation of Affection Cases?
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 attorneys at Montgomery Family Law at (919) 348-2317 to arrange for an initial consultation.