North Carolina is one of six states that still has a law on the books called alienation of affection. A claim can be made against any third-party that makes statements with the malicious intent to dissolve a healthy marriage and the marriage was in fact destroyed. Typically, the third party is an individual that has an adulterous relationship with a married person.
North Carolina common law has over time, established several elements which must be satisfied for a prima facie alienation of affections claim. A claim for alienation of affections is a “transitory tort because it is based on transactions that can take place anywhere and that harm the marital relationship” Darnell v Rupplin, 91 N.C. App. 349, 351 (1988). To establish a claim for alienation of affections the plaintiff must prove “(1) plaintiff and [the spouse] were happily married and a genuine love and affection existed between them; (2) the love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and (3) the wrongful and malicious acts of defendant produced the alienation of affections.” Id. at 745, see also Litchfield v. Cox, 266 N.C. 622 (1966); Chappell v Redding, 67 N.C. App. 397, 399 (1988).
Breaking each of these elements down will make it easier to understand. The first element is simply that plaintiff must prove that the he or she was in a happily married relationship. Now happy does not mean perfect. It is commonly understood that couples fight and argue but arguing does not mean unhappy or that the marriage is near an end. The next part of the first element is genuine love and affection. How couples show affection is different for every couple. Often people try to define affection strictly as having how frequently they have sex, but that isn’t true. Affection can include, but not be limited to, holding hands, cuddling, kissing, use of pet names, leaving love notes, or even saying that you love each other. Showing any or all of these existed prior to the third party’s actions will help you establish that you had a genuine loving relationship with affection.
Next, you have to show that the love was alienated and destroyed. The simplest way to show this, is by establishing that you and your significant other have separated with the intent to end the relationship or have already divorced. Sometimes couples are able to work things out, and if a couple reunites, it can make it very difficult to prove the love was destroyed. Defendants will likely argue if they love had been destroyed, why was the couple still together.
Last, is the wrongful and malicious acts of defendant produced the alienation of affections. It is important to note that this does not require that the defendant’s actions be the sole cause of alienations; rather, defendant’s actions must be only a controlling or effective cause. Heller v. Somdahl, 206 N.C. App. 313, 317. Plainly, this goes back to what courts understand that couples argue, fight, and may have imperfect times. There can be problems that existed during the scope of the marriage, but if the actions of the third party causes the destruction of the love, then the third party can be potentially be held liable.
While most claims under alienation of affection are a result of an adulterous relationships, the language of the law says any third party, which means any person outside the marriage who deliberately takes action that lead to the dissolution of the marriage could potentially face a claim.
If you have any questions, or feel you have a claim for alienation of affection, please reach out to us and see if we can help.