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Divorce Resources for Women

Should I sue for Alienation of Affection?

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If your partner has been unfaithful in your marriage, there are often more pains than just the initial shock of the infidelity. Many couples struggle to return to the same level of love, trust, and security found in the beginning of their marriage after a spouse’s affair. Additionally, if you are a victim of a spouse’s infidelity, you may also harbor resentment towards the person your spouse has been unfaithful with. This person is known as your spouse’s “paramour”, and you may wish to take action against them for their part in the deceit by suing for alienation of affection.

In North Carolina, a spouse who is victimized by an affair is able to sue their spouse’s lover for damages. This can be done by filing an alienation of affection suit. Few states recognize this legal cause of action, but North Carolina is one of a handful that still do. Deriving from 17th century English common law, the legal argument is that there was genuine love and affection in the marriage until someone came along and lured away your spouse. An alienation of affection suit is your opportunity to seek compensation from the person responsible for depriving you of your spouse’s love and affection.

There is plenty of information out there about how to file
an alienation of affection lawsuit, but it is worth taking a moment to discuss whether
or not it makes sense for you to actually pursue such a suit. Affairs are
devastating and emotionally taxing situations that leave you feeling emotional
and hurt. While your feelings are completely valid and may fuel a desire to sue
your spouse’s paramour, the option of pursuing an alienation of affection suit
should be considered strategically for your own benefit. There are several logistical
and tactical reasons you may decide to refrain from pursuing this type of suit.

What is required to sue for alienation of affection?

Not every case of infidelity is appropriate for an
alienation of affection suit. For the suit to take place, you must be able to
prove the following:

-You had a happy marriage with genuine love and affection
for each other before your spouse engaged with the paramour;

-The love and affection were alienated and destroyed as a
result of the wrongful and malicious acts of the paramour; and

-The wrongful and malicious acts took place in North
Carolina;

If the above three criteria apply to you, an alienation of affection suit is not only plausible but may be a great option for you to pursue in order to restore damages inflicted upon you due to the paramour’s actions. Keep in mind that you do not have to prove actual intercourse with the paramour in order to file this suit. Furthermore, you do not have to prove that the paramour specifically set out to destroy the marriage. Showing that the person in question engaged in acts that would have a foreseeable impact on your marriage is sufficient. Your marriage also does not need to have been flawless; being able to prove that there was some amount of love and affection between you and your spouse is enough.

Why wouldn’t I want to sue for alienation of affection?

Alienation of affection lawsuits can sometimes result in huge dollar amounts, so the thought that someone would willingly forgo one may seem odd. However, the facts in every case are different and there are situations that would make the possibility of winning a suit like this impossible. Even in cases where it’s likely you would win the suit, there may be better options for recovering from the damage of the affair. Here are some scenarios in which an alienation of affection lawsuit would not be the most effective action for you to take.

You should not sue for alienation of affection if:

There are jurisdictional issues

Because alienation of affection laws are only valid in a
handful of states, the alienation of affection needs to have taken place in
North Carolina. A lawsuit wouldn’t be possible if the paramour lives in another
state or country without an alienation of affection law and has never set foot
in the state of North Carolina.

If the paramour has been to North Carolina and met with your spouse while visiting here, this can be enough to constitute alienation of affection even without proof of a sexual encounter. It is only necessary to show that their encounter further alienated the affection in your marriage.

The affair is outside of the statute of limitations

If the last act of the affair occurred more than three years
ago, you will be unable to pursue a lawsuit for alienation of affection. The
“last act” will be determined by the court, but essentially it means that you
cannot sue a paramour for an affair that ended more than three years prior,
even if you are just learning about it now.

You encouraged the affair

You will not be successful in a lawsuit against your
spouse’s paramour if you did any of the following: pushed or encouraged your
spouse into cheating on you, gave them permission to pursue relations with
others for their sake, had an open relationship at the time, or you intended to
trick them into an alienation of affection lawsuit.

You cannot prove the paramour’s intent

If your spouse’s lover was told the love in the marriage no
longer existed or was entirely unaware that they were part of an affair in the
first place you will not be able to sue the paramour. One of the requirements
for an alienation of affection suit is the deliberate and malicious actions of
the other person. If your spouse concealed the fact that they were married or
claimed the marriage was ending, it would be difficult to prove the paramour
had the necessary intent.

You and your spouse were separated at the time of the affair

If you and your spouse were separated at the time your spouse began another relationship, you would be unable to assert a claim of alienation. This is because an official separation evidences a lack of a valid and happy marriage. Without a valid and healthy marriage at the time of the actions, the acts of a third party cannot be deemed responsible for the demise of the marital union.

However, if the affair began prior to your separation but
you did not find out about it until after separating, you would still be able
to pursue an alienation of affection lawsuit as long as it is within the
three-year statute of limitations.

You might want to
forgo filing for alienation of affection if:

You want to gain more leverage against your spouse

It is worth considering the potential strategic benefit of not filing a suit. It may be in your best interest to leverage the affair against your spouse rather than the paramour, especially in the process of dividing assets or disputing custody in your divorce. For example, since a lawsuit would become public knowledge, your spouse may be more inclined to concede to your preferences in the divorce arrangements to avoid airing their dirty laundry. This may be especially true in situations where your spouse intends to keep a relationship with the paramour after the divorce or if public disclosure of the affair would tarnish your spouse’s reputation. If your spouse is an elected official, notable member of your community, or a high-level executive, their reputation may be essential to their livelihood.

You want to avoid unwanted attention and emotional strain

An alienation of affection suit could add to the emotional volatility of your divorce, as well as cause unwanted attention due to the public nature of lawsuits. It may not be worth suing for alienation of affection if the paramour does not have substantial assets to provide you with the damages you might be seeking, or if you do not want the additional attention and stress of a public ordeal. You may be able to gain the closure you need through mediation and divorce negotiations with your spouse if the stress of a lawsuit is not something you want to endure.

There are many factors involved in suing for alienation of affection, and all of the factors should be taken into account to make sure the action you take is in your best interest. It can be satisfying to think about taking a piece of revenge against the person your spouse engaged in an affair with, but sometimes other courses of action may prove more beneficial.

 

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