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Can You Sue Your Spouse’s Lover?

Yes, North Carolina is one of the few states that allow you to sue your spouse’s lover. If you want to file a lawsuit against your husband’s mistress or your wife’s paramour, you will need to file an alienation of affection lawsuit. According to Elle, these lawsuits are “rare in the U.S. overall, but they are somewhat common, though controversial, in North Carolina.”

In an alienation of affection lawsuit, you can essentially sue a third party for breaking up your marriage. All you have to do is prove that:

  • Love and affection existed in the marriage
  • This love was alienated and destroyed
  • The malicious conduct of a third party contributed to its loss

Although something like “love,” can be hard to prove, the right attorney can help you win your case.

The History of Alienation of Affection Lawsuits

Alienation of affection lawsuits were invented in the colonial era, and allowed men, who still saw their wives as property, to sue for “harms they faced when women were unfaithful.” Men could sue other men, their mothers-in-law, or even the church, as long as the party in question interfered with a wife’s affection. Because the main criticism of alienation of affection lawsuits was that they were sexist, the Married Women’s Property Acts allowed women to start filing these lawsuits in the 1880s, as well.

Over time, the thought that spouses were property that could be stolen largely expired, and one by one, most U.S. States repealed alienation of affection statutes. Today, the 6 states that still allow these lawsuits are North Carolina, Mississippi, South Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, and Hawaii. North Carolina has the highest number of alienation of affection lawsuits in the nation, and the majority of plaintiffs win their cases.

An Example of Alienated Affection

Take, for example, the family that Elle covered in its story about alienation of affection lawsuits. The husband cheated on his wife with another woman and left her when his mistress became pregnant. After her divorce, the ex-wife was working as a bartender and telling her story to a couple of patrons who turned out to be attorneys. They convinced her to file an alienation of affection lawsuit, and she stood up for herself in court.

The couple’s marriage had a rocky start, but after marriage retreats, religious counseling, love letters, and 2 children, the couple was happier than ever. That is when the husband met his mistress at work. Suddenly, he stopped behaving like a devoted husband and father. Soon, the wife discovered the affair. The couple separated 2 weeks later. While the wife thought the couple was working on their marriage during this state-mandated period of separation, the mistress became pregnant. In court, the mistress testified that she had no idea her lover was still sleeping with his wife, telling his wife he loved her, and exchanging ‘sex videos’ with his wife.

The couple in question ultimately divorced, and the wife received 9 months of alimony — $4,950. After the divorce, the husband and his mistress built a house on what used to be marital property, the husband stopped paying child support, and worst of all, the husband allegedly posted a private photo of his ex-wife topless on the internet.

In her alienation of affection lawsuit, the ex-wife’s attorneys argued her husband’s mistress “stole the life [the plaintiff] had built for herself: husband, children, and home.” The jury awarded the scorned ex-wife $3.2 million after less than an hour of deliberation — $2 million of that came from the husband and $1.2 million came from the mistress. The ex-wife also received $10,000 in damages because of the
“revenge porn” her ex-husband had created of her.

Deterring Infidelity

Proponents of North Carolina’s alienation of affection lawsuits argue that “these cases protect families by deterring infidelity and treating marriage as a contract like any other.” Due to the sometimes-enormous financial repercussions, an unfaithful spouse might think twice before cheating.

The largest alienation of affection judgment in North Carolina’s history was $30 million, and critics say these lawsuits are excessively punishing when adultery is relatively common in the United States.

Many people refer to alienation of affection cases as “heart balm,” because they use money to soothe the person who has been wronged and give them an avenue for legal recourse.

The woman Elle spoke to felt like the lawsuit gave her agency and helped her get her life back on track after the divorce. She offered the following advice to others:

I just want people to know that it’s okay. Help yourself. It’s the only way…This was my way of going, ‘Don’t be afraid. Speak out.’”

If you want to file an alienation of affection lawsuit, Rech Law, P.C. can help. Call us at (704) 659-0007 or contact us online to speak with an attorney and get help moving forward after infidelity.