Alienation of affection suits

by Walter Olson on May 22, 2005

The North Carolina Bar Association is pressing to abolish the state’s unusual cause of action for alienation of affection, a carryover from common law days in a few states which allows a wronged spouse to sue the other spouse’s paramour for having broken up the marriage. The law is still sometimes used, and in fact damage awards have been escalating briskly in the Tarheel State, reaching $500,000 (later reduced) in a 1990 Forsyth County case and $1.2 million in a case eight years ago in the same county. “Most of the time, lawyers said it costs as much or more to try these kind of cases than the injured party stands to win,” and Raleigh family law practitioner Lee Rosen says he often discourages clients from filing such a suit because by poisoning the atmosphere it “destroys the possibility of future cooperation” on, e.g., custody matters. (Amanda Lamb, “Some Want To Get Rid Of ‘Alienation Of Affection’ Lawsuits”, WRAL, Feb. 2). See Nov. 16, 2004; May 18-21, 2000.