North Carolina is one of a handful of states that continues to recognize a married individual’s rights to bring suit against a third party for alienation of affection as well as criminal conversation. Alienation of affection is designed to protect a spouse’s interest in a peaceful and uninterrupted marriage as well as the affection, love, companionship, and comfort that accompanies it. Criminal conversation is rooted in the theory that one enjoys a right to have an exclusive sexual relationship with their spouse. While distinct from one another, the factual basis that surrounds the two claims often overlaps; thus, alienation of affection and criminal conversation are frequently pled together along with intentional infliction of emotional distress or negligent infliction of emotional distress.
In order for one to have a claim for alienation of affection the plaintiff must be able to establish that there was: genuine love and affection between the spouses; the genuine love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and the wrongful and malicious acts of the defendant caused the loss of love and affection. What is equally important, but often overlooked, or misunderstood, is that one is not required to prove adultery to pursue a claim for alienation of affection. As for criminal conversation, the plaintiff must prove: that there was a valid marriage of the spouses and adultery between the defendant and the plaintiff’s spouse during the marriage. Intentional infliction of emotional distress requires conduct by the defendant that was extreme, outrageous, exceeding all bounds tolerated by society, and intended to cause the plaintiff severe emotional distress. Conversely, negligent infliction of emotional distress is based on a defendant who acted negligently despite it being reasonably foreseeable that their conduct would cause the Plaintiff severe emotional distress. Lastly, the plaintiff must show that the Defendant’s conduct was the proximate and actual cause of the plaintiff’s severe emotional distress.
If a court determines that the plaintiff has met their burden of proof then the plaintiff may be awarded compensatory damages, punitive damages, or some combination thereof. Whether you are interested in pursuing these causes of actions or you are defending such a suit you may want to set up an initial consultation so we can help explain your options.