Heart Balm actions are designed to protect the sanctity of marriage and the institution of the family. The law disfavors wrongful intrusion upon marriage and family relationships and will award damages to the injured spouse.
Alienation of Affection
In North Carolina, a suit may be brought against a third party that alienates your relationship with your spouse. Alienation of Affection has three requirements:
1. Genuine love and affection between spouses who are validly married,
2. That the existing love and affection was alienated and destroyed, AND
3. The defendant's wrongful and malicious acts caused the loss of love and affection.
Alienation of Affection doesn't require adultery. Instead, anyone who has alienated and destroyed the married spouses' love and affection may be sued. A spouse's parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker, for example, may be liable if they caused the alienation. To be actionable, the Alienation of Affection must have occurred before the date the spouses separated with the intent of at least one spouse to remain permanently separated. According to NCGS 52-13, post-separation acts cannot give rise to a cause of action for Alienation of Affection. Post-separation acts can, however, corroborate evidence of pre-separation acts.
Why is this important? If someone has interfered with your relationship with your spouse, and that interference has alienated and destroyed the love and affection between you and your spouse, that person may be liable to you in damages. In 2009, a North Carolina jury awarded a spouse a $9,000,000 verdict against a woman who broke up her 33-year marriage to her husband. In 2011, a North Carolina jury awarded a spouse a $30,000,000 verdict against a woman who broke up her 15-year marriage. Although these judgment amounts are exceptional, North Carolina courts routinely award damages to wronged spouses.
Defenses to Alienation of Affection:
1. No genuine love and affection between the spouses.
2. The defendant was unaware that the spouse was married.
3. Consent or encouragement - These situations arise when the consenting spouse may be planning to divorce the encouraged spouse and want to use evidence of an affair in subsequent divorce proceedings.
4. Separation prior to alienation.
5. Statute of Limitations - 3 years from the date of the last act giving rise to the claim.
North Carolina also allows actions to be brought against a person who has sexual relations with your spouse. Criminal Conversation has three requirements:
1. An actual legal marriage between the plaintiff and the allegedly adulterous spouse,
2. Sexual intercourse between that adulterous spouse and the defendant during the legal marriage, AND
3. The sexual intercourse must occur before the date of separation of the married persons.
In contrast to Alienation of Affection, Criminal Conversation does require adultery. Similar to Alienation of Affection, Criminal Conversation only involves pre-separation conduct; post-separation acts may not give rise to a cause of action for Criminal Conversation.
North Carolina courts recognize that direct evidence of sexual intercourse may be difficult to prove. Sexual intercourse may, therefore, be presumed from the circumstances. North Carolina follows the Opportunity and Inclination Doctrine, which presumes adultery when two conditions are proved by clear and convincing evidence:
1. An adulterous disposition or inclination of the parties, AND
2. That there was an opportunity created to satisfy the parties' mutual adulterous inclinations.
Why is this important? An action for Criminal Conversation may potentially have serious monetary repercussions. In 1997, a North Carolina jury awarded a wife a $1,000,000 verdict against a husband's secretary. The husband was having sexual intercourse with the secretary and left the marital home to live with her. In 2001, a Mecklenburg County jury awarded a spouse a $1,400,000 verdict against wife's former husband. The spouse's wife committed adultery with her ex-husband and left the spouse for her ex-husband. Again, these large monetary judgments are the exception and not the norm. Damages are usually awarded based on loss of love, affection, companionship, income, life insurance policies, pension benefits, loss of consortium, mental anguish, and humiliation.
Defenses to Criminal Conversation:
1. Connivance - Where a husband may collude with his wife to seduce the defendant into sexual intercourse for the purpose of suing him in Criminal Conversation.
2. Separation prior to sexual intercourse.
3. Statute of Limitations - 3 years from the date of the last act giving rise to the claim.
Adkins Law is able to provide you with assistance in a variety of family law issues, including alienation of affection and criminal conversation. Contact Adkins Law if you wish to speak with an experienced family law lawyer, divorce lawyer, child custody lawyer, child support lawyer, alimony lawyer, or equitable distribution lawyer. Adkins Law has locations in Huntersville and Ballantyne, and primarily serves Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Charlotte, Ballantyne, Mecklenburg County, Iredell County, Gaston County, and Cabarrus County.