Can I Be Sued if I Date a Married Man or Woman?

Meeting a great man or woman is a wonderful thing, especially if you can tell right away that you two have hit it off. Perhaps this person tells you that while he or she is “still married” to an ex, separation is already underway. Sometimes, the person says, marriage is a technicality and it is simply just a piece of paper. Believing this person, you follow your heart and enjoy spending time together. Hours become days, which turn into weeks, which turn into months of happiness together. As the relationship progresses, the final piece of paper is issued - the divorce from the ex. All is well in the world.

Not so fast, unfortunately. Shortly thereafter, a sheriff’s deputy shows up at your door and serves you with a complaint and summons. You have been sued by the ex.

Facing a Lawsuit

The above scenario is not uncommon in Waxhaw, North Carolina. The lawsuit filed by your significant other’s ex will claim criminal conversation and alienation of affections. These two causes of action - which is the legal term for grounds to sue an individual - no longer exist is most states. North Carolina, however, is one of a handful of states that still allows upset spouses to sue their ex’s paramours. Of note, this lawsuit is technically not criminal nor based on conversation alone. Instead, under North Carolina law, everyone has the legal right to enjoy the companionship and service of their spouse. If another person “steals” that away, the spouse can sue that person for damages. Essentially, the person being sued is to blame for destruction of the marriage and may be financially liable as a result.

Over the past several years, North Carolina courts have awarded upset spouses millions of dollars in monetary compensation for criminal conversation and alienation of affection actions. In order for an upset spouse to succeed in a claim for alienation of affections, he or she must prove that before the paramour entered the picture, the marital relationship between the spouses was a happy and healthy one. In order to for an upset spouse to win a criminal conversation claim, he or she need only prove that the paramour and spouse engaged in sexual relations while the marriage was still in effect. If a spouse is successful, the accused - not the unfaithful spouse - is financially liable for any damages suffered.

Heart-Balm Actions and Divorce

Criminal conversation and alienation of affections actions also go by the nickname “heart-balm actions” in Waxhaw and the rest of North Carolina. Not surprisingly, Waxhaw heart-balm actions are often filed along with or during litigation of a pending divorce case. They are used as leverage by one spouse while negotiating the final details of the divorce settlement agreement.

One common scenario that occurs is that during negotiations of division of marital assets or spousal support, one spouse finds out the other has a significant other. The attorney for the upset spouse files a criminal conversation and alienation of affections lawsuit against the newly discovered boyfriend or girlfriend. As it stands, the husband and wife are in a lawsuit and the spouse is in a lawsuit with the paramour. The heart-balm lawsuit is used as a bargaining chip in divorce litigation, often with the promise to drop that suit in exchange for a better settlement - whether it is more assets, higher spousal support, or something else - in the divorce. Assuming the facts are true, the upset spouse has every legal right to use the heart-balm lawsuit as leverage.

Tread Carefully With “Separated” Spouses

Defending against a Waxhaw criminal conversation and alienation of affections action can be expensive and embarrassing to paramours who never expected to get into a legal tangle with their significant other’s ex. Likewise, these lawsuits can be damaging to the spouse who decided to get involved romantically while his or her divorce was still pending, as settlement terms will likely end up unfavorable. Although criminal conversation and alienation of affections cases are not viewed favorably by lawyers and legislators alike, as long as these actions remain viable, separated spouses and those romantically involved with a separated spouse must be extremely careful.

Family Law Attorneys in Waxhaw

If you or someone you know has any questions regarding criminal conversation, alienation of affections, or have been served with a lawsuit alleging these, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our attorneys have years of experiencing handling these types of cases, as well as other family matters that may arise out of divorce.