Courtroom battles are full of emotion, and they can get very personal. The subject of the dispute, however, is often dry. The plaintiff and defendant may be of personal feelings about the topic, but the topic itself is cut-and-dry.
There is, however, a type of lawsuit that is personal and emotional at its core. This is an “alienation of affection” lawsuit. In these cases, a plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit), claims that the defendant (the person being sued) destroyed the plaintiff’s marriage. Essentially, the suit claims that the marriage was full of love until this other person came along.
Alienation of affection laws are rare, and only six states still use them. North Carolina is among them, along with New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Hawaii, and Mississippi.
Who Can You Sue for Alienation of Affection?
In these cases, you are not suing your former spouse. You are, instead, suing the third party who damaged your relationship. This could be anyone you believe to be directly responsible. It could be a meddling in-law, your ex’s best friend, a coworker, and so on.
Most often, these lawsuits are filed against an extramarital lover. It can be easy to make a case that this person took affection from the home and redirected it toward themselves.
Alienation of affection does not mean that the affair took place. Attempting to lure someone into an affair qualifies. If you have evidence of this third party sending flirty, alluring texts, and the marriage began to suffer afterward, that could be used as evidence in the case.
When Can You File?
The statute of limitations for alienation of affection in North Carolina is 3 years. This can be hard to define because the time begins right after the last “wrongful act.” Simply nailing down the wrongful act can be difficult. For instance, if you’re suing an intrusive friend, you have to determine exactly what the act was and when it occurred. If they generally planted seeds of doubt within your spouse, it could be nearly impossible to figure out when and what was last said. Even in the case of an affair, did the last “wrongful act” happen the last time the illicit couple saw each other before the divorce, or was it the last flirty text conversation they shared? Work closely with your lawyer to determine exactly when and what this act is. This can help you avoid a counterclaim that the statute of limitations has passed on the claim.
A separation can affect the statute of limitations. For an alienation of affection claim to work, you have to prove that the outside party directly damaged your marriage. If you are separated, then the court already believes there is damage within the marriage. If your spouse starts a new relationship or takes a naysayer’s advice during this time, it may be difficult to prove alienation of affection. Once again, work closely with your attorney on the timeline of your claim. Make sure that the meddling damaged the marriage before a step like separation took place.
Proving Alienation of Affection
For this claim to work, you need a clear “line in the sand.” You must be able to demonstrate that the marriage was good and full of love. Then this outside person poisoned it.
This requires establishing a timeline. You need evidence of a once good relationship. Pictures, love letters, social media posts, and the like will help. Then you need evidence of how everything changed. Similar documentation could back up this claim. You may also be able to use financial records. For instance, you could show how spending increased when your spouse began having an affair.
Disqualifying an Alienation of Affection Claim
Alienation of affection inherently suggests that something good was turned bad by a third party. People change, and outside forces can always alter their perceptions. Someone could watch a sitcom with a particular message and reevaluate their marriage. Alienation of affection inherently implies that someone was out to destroy your marriage. If your spouse has a negative friend who simply doesn’t like you, that may not be enough to make a claim in court.
Similarly, people with open or polyamorous marriages will have a difficult time filing for alienation of affection. These dynamics always carry the risk of a “game-changer,” or meeting someone who alters your perception and life trajectory. If your spouse falls in love with an outside partner, especially if you consented to that relationship, this could just be an example of bad luck. It doesn’t mean that this outside person intended to destroy your marriage. Unfortunately, it probably just means that your partner changed and decided they wanted something different from life.
Compensation for Alienation of Affection
Typically, lawsuits are designed to directly repay you for your losses. Keep this in mind when filing an alienation of affection lawsuit. You must have something for which you demand repayment.
For instance, you may have lost a lot of money or property during the divorce. Since you are blaming this person for ending your marriage, you can request that they pay you back in court. Perhaps the divorce led to financial loss in life. Because of your mental distress, you paid a lot for mental health treatment. This distress may have led to poor job performance, costing you a promotion or causing you to lose the job. In such scenarios, you could be repaid for these economic costs.
Remember: You are not suing your former spouse. You are suing the person who damaged your marriage. If you are trying to recover property, you probably can’t directly get the house back. That belongs to your spouse, not the defendant. Instead, you’re suing for your investment in the home, so you can only receive money, not the actual property.
If the court believes that the defendant’s actions were particularly malicious, you may be entitled to punitive damages. This is extra compensation the court orders strictly to punish the defendant.
Is It Worth Filing for Alienation of Affection?
Lawsuits can get expensive. In the best-case scenario, you win the case, and you use part of your compensation to pay your lawyer. Before moving forward, consider the person you are suing. Just because someone destroyed your marriage, it doesn’t mean you can get anything from them. If the defendant is someone of modest means, they may simply be unable to pay you if they lose the case. Make sure you know what you can get out of the case before moving forward.
You should also consider your emotional state before pursuing such a case. A lawsuit like this could reopen some old wounds, particularly if you suffered mental distress. Make sure that you know exactly what you plan to get from the case before going forward.
If you believe that an outside saboteur destroyed your marriage, contact our office for a free consultation. You can call us at (704) 286-0570 or reach us online.