Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation

Seven states—Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah—have laws allowing a spouse to sue for damages based on allegations of emotional harm caused by a third party to the marital relationship. These lawsuits for “alienation of affection” and/or “criminal conversation” are usually brought by the innocent spouse against the guilty spouse’s lover. A case might also be brought against an in-law or other near relative who advised a defecting spouse to leave the marriage. The laws vary greatly between the states, and the suits can be complex, requiring jury trials. However, sometimes the costs may be worth it, as recent cases in North Carolina have resulted in jury awards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some cases result in an award of over one million dollars. The possibility of such a massive judgment can create great incentive for a spouse involved in an adulterous relationship to settle to avoid potential damage to a person outside of the marriage with whom they have a relationship.

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