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Airing Dirty Laundry: 

Alienation of Affections and

Criminal Conversation Claims

They are sometimes called Heart Balm cases for allegedly making the jilted spouse feel better by nursing a broken heart, and are filed by the husband or wife against a third-party, not the other spouse. North Carolina is one of a handful of states that still recognizes legal claims for alienation of affections and criminal conversation. They are controversial and have been rejected and resurrected by the courts and the legislature for many years.

Alienation of Affections

In alienation cases, the spouse sues the third-party for alienating (i.e., stealing) the spouse and/or the love and affection that spouse once had for the plaintiff. He or she must prove, usually to a jury, the defendant wrongfully interfered in the marriage. Another element of these claims is proving the other spouse had some genuine love and affection for him or her, and that the third-party destroyed it. The spouse must also show the alienation of affection was caused by the wrongful and malicious acts of the third-party.  His or her actions must be a controlling cause, but need not be the only cause, for the lost affection.  In most cases, the loss of affection is shown by a separation or divorce. These claims were once known as mother-in-law cases. This was because the spouse blamed the in-law for the decline of the marriage.  Now these cases are usually filed against the person with whom the spouse is having an affair.

Criminal Conversation

Criminal conversation claims are much easier to prove because the only real element is proving the third-party had intercourse with the spouse while married and before any separation of the spouses. There is no need to prove the spouse’s affections were taken,  or that there was genuine love and affection between the spouses.

Financial Damages

The spouse/plaintiff sues for financial damages. Besides loss of affection, examples of damages include compensation for the loss of consortium, loss of sexual relations exclusively with the spouse, fear of sexually transmitted disease, humiliation, shame, mental anguish, and disgrace resulting from the act. The end of a marriage may include a request for damages based on his or her loss of property by means of equitable distribution of marital property, and loss of support. There are also potential damages related to injury done to the spouse for pain and suffering, including physical reactions to the affair, such as anxiety and depression.


Amy Edwards & Associates, PLLC. Our attorneys are licensed only in North Carolina. Laws change. This article is current as of 2018.©

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