The family law attorneys of Tharrington Smith have substantial experience in representing parties in North Carolina alienation of affections and criminal conversation lawsuits, sometimes referred to as the “heart balm” torts. Since the great majority of states have abolished these causes of action, many people in North Carolina are unfamiliar with these civil tort actions that involve a third-party interfering with the marital relationship. North Carolina has not abolished these actions and hundreds of these cases are filed each year. Parties have a right to a jury trial and the financial implications of committing acts that meet the elements of one or both of these torts can be substantial, with a few North Carolina awards exceeding one million dollars.
“Alienation of affections” is a somewhat descriptive label for this cause of action. For a party to prevail in this action, a spouse must show to the court that some degree of love and affection existed between the spouses at the time that a third party’s conduct alienated and destroyed that affection. While most of these lawsuits involve romantic relationships, other relationships such as in-laws and counselors may also be held liable.
For a person to be held liable for “criminal conversation,” the innocent spouse must show that his or her spouse had sexual relations with that person while the spouses were married to and not physically separated with one of the spouses intending for the separation to be permanent.
These two types of lawsuits are generally brought together although that is not required. The innocent spouse must bring these lawsuits within three years of the last act of the offending party giving rise to the cause of action.
As is the case with the great majority of civil lawsuits filed in North Carolina, most of these heart balm torts are settled before going before a jury. The road to settlement is a rocky one. Confidentiality is often a concern and the law requires that a great deal of information be exchanged, including financial information. As the stakes are extremely high, it is critical that parties to these lawsuits have skilled and experienced legal counsel. In the settlement negotiations, the plaintiff, or the party bringing such actions, will not want to leave any money on the table, while the defendant, or the party being sued, will want to pay as little as possible.
The family lawyers of Tharrington Smith have the experience to provide this expert guidance to parties on either side of these lawsuits. Someone served with a summons and complaint for one of these lawsuits should contact legal counsel immediately. Missed filing deadlines can have catastrophic consequences.
If a settlement is not possible, an experienced trial attorney will know how to raise defenses as appropriate and to advance the relevant aggravating and mitigating circumstances to the client’s advantage.
Our experienced litigation attorneys provide unparalleled representation in civil litigation and family law, including actions for alienation of affection and criminal conversation. Our attorneys are acutely aware of the legal elements and personal sensitivities that factor into these cases. We are dedicated to protecting the rights and interests of our clients while being mindful of the client’s uniqueness and special needs.