Going through a divorce is difficult, but it can be especially harsh when the driving factor behind the divorce is an affair. However, North Carolina law does allow you to sue the paramour, meaning the person who interfered in your marriage, under a tort called alienation of affection. The goal of an alienation of affection lawsuit is to compensate you for the “loss of consortium” (meaning the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, sexual relations, etc.) of the “alienated” spouse. To prove your case, you must establish: (1) that there was a preexisting marriage with love and affection; (2) that the love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and (3) that the defendant, with malice, caused the loss of love and affection.
In order to prove the first element of an alienation of affection claim, you must establish two components: (1) a marriage, and (2) love and affection. The first component is often not problematic, so long as the marriage between you and your ex-spouse was a valid, legally binding marriage (not merely a “dating” relationship). In regard to the second component, North Carolina requires the person bringing the lawsuit to establish that love and affection between the spouses actually existed at the time the defendant’s conduct allegedly intervened. This can be shown a variety of ways, but this essentially means the marriage must have been a relatively amicable relationship between you and your ex-spouse before the defendant involved him or herself.
The second element requires that the love and affection was alienated and destroyed. This can usually be shown by the abrasive attitude changes of the spouse at the time of the affair and the steps the ex-spouse has taken to go about dissolving the marriage, usually by means of separation and divorce.
The third element, causation, also includes two parts—malice and proximate cause. For malice, North Carolina requires that the defendant intentionally engaged in conduct that had as a probable consequence the loss of affection for you by your ex-spouse, meaning any intentional conduct that would probably affect the marriage. The person bringing the lawsuit needs only to prove that the defendant’s conduct was intentional and, as the North Carolina courts have expressed it, “unjustifiable.” Courts in North Carolina have generally been fairly lenient in allowing plaintiffs to establish malice, creating a low bar for establishing the causation element as well. North Carolina courts have found the required malice component in affairs where the defendant did not even initiate a relationship with the plaintiff’s spouse. In a number of North Carolina cases, for example, courts have upheld verdicts for the plaintiffs when the facts indicated that the defendants were not the initiators in a relationship, but merely willing participants to the affair.
The second component of the causation element requires that the defendant’s conduct proximately cause the plaintiff’s injury. The defendant’s actions need not be the sole cause, however. As long as the defendant’s conduct was a “controlling” or “effective” cause of the alienation, the plaintiff may prevail even though there might have been other contributing factors.
King Law Offices is a full-service law firm with an outstanding team of professionals who work diligently, creatively, and compassionately on behalf of our clients each day. If you have a potential claim involving an affair or an alienation of affection claim is being brought against you, contact King Law at 888-748-KING (5464) for a consultation. We have offices located across western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. We are here to serve you and to guide you as we navigate this journey together.