North Carolina is among only a handful of states still recognizing the civil claims of alienation of affection and criminal conversation. Known as the twin “heart balm” torts, these laws were devised long ago when women were regarded as a type of property and private morals were regular court business. In short, these claims allow a person to sue his or her spouse’s paramour for money damages. To prove “alienation of affection,” a plaintiff must show that the defendant wrongfully alienated and destroyed the genuine love and affection that existed between plaintiff and spouse. (Although lovers typically are the target of these suits, a defendant could be another third person who has set out to create the rift.) To prove criminal conversation, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had sexual intercourse with the plaintiff’s spouse in North Carolina during the marriage (but before separation).
In the other states that have not yet swept them into the dustbin of history, these claims do not often make their way to court. North Carolina appears to be one of only a couple of states in which they are filed regularly and sometimes result in substantial settlements and large verdicts. Continue Reading