​Can You Sue for Alienation of Affection in NC?

wedding rings

Alienation of affection lawsuits are civil tort claims often known as homewrecker lawsuits. In NC this claim is almost a century old and has spawned many cases in the state. Basically, a spouse who’s been deserted due to a third party’s actions can file a suit against that person for alienation of affection. Most often, these lawsuits are filed against a person who engaged in infidelity with the spouse. These suits can also be brought against anyone who interferes with the marriage such as in-laws or parents, if their conduct arose from malice or other improper motive; therapists, and clergy for example.

Proving an Alienation of Affection Lawsuit

You’ll need to show the following:

  • You and your spouse had a happy marriage with real love and affection,

  • A third party alienated and destroyed the love and affection in your marriage,

  • The third party’s wrongful and malicious acts directly caused the alienation, and

  • You were damaged in some way.

Maliciousness is assumed if sexual intercourse is involved, but does not always have to refer to such activity. You only have to prove that the third party caused the end of the marriage and loss of affection. If an extramarital affair started after the separation of you and your spouse, you cannot use this law.

Several judicial opinions since the passing of this decades-old law have given more detailed rules regarding the proof of alienation of affection in NC:

  • It’s not necessary for you to prove that the third party actually set out to destroy your marriage only that the person engaged in acts that would have a foreseeable effect on your marriage.

  • You don’t have to prove your marriage was perfectly happy and free from problems. You only need to show that there was some love and affection between you and your spouse.

  • You don‘t have to claim that the third party lured your spouse, if you can prove that this person initiated, actively participated, or encouraged the affair.

Statute of Limitations

Your suit must be brought within three years of when the injury took place. In an alienation of affection case, an affair may carry on for years but the injury occurs when the wrong is complete. This means the three years doesn’t start until the destruction of the marriage, or there’s a significant loss of your spouse’s love and affection.

A judge or a jury will determine when the alienation of affection was actually complete, using the trial’s testimony and evidence. According to 2009 NC legislation, the three-year period is based on when the last act causing injury occurred, not when you become aware of the injury. This act cannot occur post separation. Spouses injured by alienation of affection can seek monetary damages from the defendant based on the loss of affection and support, humiliation, mental anguish, or injury to health. Punitive damages may also be sought.

Future of Alienation of Affection Cases

Most states have done away with these types of lawsuits, but North Carolina is among the seven states that still have these laws on the books. With over 200 successful cases in the state, the damages awarded seem to have increased over time with a million dollar verdict not uncommon. There are also cases that have settled out of court or been dismissed.

An interesting Forsyth County Superior Court ruling in 2014 dismissed an alienation of affection claim. The judge ruled that the action was no longer valid in North Carolina because it was obsolete and violated constitutional rights. While the law is still in effect, it will be interesting to see what precedent this ruling may set for subsequent cases.

Marriage can be a complex relationship that sometimes encounters problems. These problems should not be handled alone. If considering an alienation of affection lawsuit or divorce, Emblem Legal will supply the experience, guidance and support you need.