Under North Carolina law, alienation of affection occurs when a third party intentionally causes a marriage to break down, typically by coaxing or tempting one of the spouses into an extramarital affair. When that happens, the wronged spouse is legally entitled to sue the interloper for both compensatory and punitive damages.
In order to establish and prove an alienation of affection claim, it must be clear that genuine love and affection existed between the married couple prior to the interference from the third party, and that the interference directly and intentionally resulted in the alienation of affection between the married couple. Almost always, the interference in the marriage must have taken place while the married couple was still living together. Judges and juries are not inclined to find that genuine love and affection existed between the married the couple if they were already separated and living apart when the relationship with the third party began.
Although intended to punish the person who broke up your marriage, an alienation of affection lawsuit can have a significant impact on the outcome of a North Carolina family law case, especially if criminal conversation (adultery) also took place.
While technically a separate cause of action, criminal conversation is often central to an alienation of affection lawsuit. It allows a wronged spouse to pursue damages for acts of sexual intercourse between their spouse and a third party.
Being accused of adultery can impact alimony payments. North Carolina family law states that a dependent spouse who commits adultery potentially forfeits their right to alimony under North Carolina law, while a supporting spouse found guilty of cheating may be ordered to make larger alimony payments.
Child custody can be similarly affected. Judges have a significant degree of discretion in deciding what arrangement is in the best interests of the child, and may feel that placing a child with an adulterous parent can have a detrimental effect, especially if that parent is now living with the party who caused the breakup, and/or if the children were aware of the affair and negatively impacted by it.
Division of Property
Adultery has little influence on division of property during a divorce case per se, but if your affair affected the marital finances, it can have an impact. For example, if you wasted hundreds of dollars of marital funds to rent hotel rooms or buy expensive gifts for your lover, the amount spent may be taken into consideration when it comes time for a judge to divide assets.
At Haas Tharrington, P.A., we understand that divorce and associated issues like child custody and alimony present a stressful, emotional, and challenging time for everyone in your family. For experienced and supportive guidance during this difficult process, especially in cases where alienation of affection may have occurred, contact us today at 919-783-9669 to arrange an initial consultation.