Alienation of Affection & Criminal Conversation
North Carolina has two causes of action known as the heart-balm torts, which are actions for damages against third-parties who interfere with an existing marital relationship. Both of these types of actions are civil matters and have no criminal ramifications.
Alienation of affections gives a spouse the right to sue a third-party (some natural person other than their spouse) if that third-party “deprives a married person of the affection, love, society, companionship, and comfort of the spouse.” In an alienation of affections case, the Defendant need not be a person who had a sexual or romantic relationship with the Plaintiff’s spouse, though it commonly is. Rather, the Defendant is oftentimes parents or children associated with the parties that cause such interference.
A successful claim for Alienation of Affections needs to prove:
- The parties to the marriage were happily married with genuine love and affection existing between them;
- That the love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and,
- The wrongful, malicious acts of the Defendant produced and brought about the loss and alienation of that love and affection.
What does alienation mean?
Alienation means that a person or an interest has been distanced from a source, usually unjustifiably. In this context, it means the spouse of the Plaintiff is being distanced from the Plaintiff, either physically or emotionally, maliciously and/or intentionally.
My relationship has struggled for many years and my spouse had an affair, is this a cause of action I could pursue?
Maybe, but not likely. This cause of action requires that the parties have a genuine love and affection existing between them at the time of the alienation. So if the marriage had been struggling, it may be difficult to demonstrate that the parties had genuine love and affection.
What if my spouse’s employer was the cause of the alienation, can I sue my spouse’s employer?
No. An Alienation of Affections claims must be brought against natural people, not businesses or corporations.
Can I make a claim for Alienation of Affection if my spouse’s conduct occurred in a different state?
Maybe. That would depend on an analysis of what type of conduct occurred, where the conduct occurred, who was interfering, and the Defendant’s relation to the state of North Carolina.
Criminal Conversation is a civil action for when a spouse has engaged in illicit sexual behavior with a third-party Defendant during the marriage. This action is frequently brought alongside an action for Alienation of Affections.
In order to have a successful claim for criminal conversation, a Plaintiff must prove:
- That Plaintiff had a valid marriage to their spouse; and,
- That sexual intercourse occurred between Plaintiff’s spouse and the Defendant during the course of the marriage prior to the parties’ separation.
What if I cannot prove definitively that sexual intercourse occurred?
In North Carolina, you do not need direct proof of illicit sexual activity in order to prevail on a claim for criminal conversation or alienation of affections; but, direct proof is helpful. The factfinder can infer that illicit sexual activity occurred by the surrounding circumstances of the claim.
Can I make a claim for Criminal Conversation if my spouse’s conduct occurred in a different state?
Probably not. Unless the other state where the conduct occurred has a similar cause of action that would allow you to file in that state.
Is Criminal Conversation a criminal offense?
No. The criminal conversation lawsuit is just a civil matter. However, North Carolina does still have adultery listed as a criminal offense, even though that statute is not enforced often.
If you have questions about alienation of affection or criminal conversation claims, please reach out to our Family Law department to set up a time to discuss your situation at 336-379-0539 and see how we can assist you!