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Alienation of Affection

Alienation of affection and criminal conversation are nuanced areas of the law that can allow spouses to sue for punitive damages after a marriage ends. These dignitary torts can be distinguished from other intentional torts because they cause harm to a person's dignity or reputation instead of causing physical injury. Alienation of affection or loss of affection is an example of a dignitary tort because the harm suffered is not a physical injury, but rather the loss or alienation of love in a marriage. 

An alienation of affection lawsuit can be filed by a deserted spouse against a third party that he or she believes is responsible for the marriage's failure. While this type of tort has been abolished in most jurisdictions, there are still some states that allow alienation of affection lawsuits to be filed. These are often handled in the common law areas of personal injury law as well as family law. 

Proving an Alienation of Affection Claim

Currently, the tort of alienation of affection is available in six states: Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. Although the elements necessary to prove your case will depend on the laws of each state, the plaintiff generally must prove the following:

  1. There was love in the marriage;
  2. That love was alienated and destroyed; and
  3. The defendant caused or contributed to the loss of love/affection.

Typically, these types of suits are filed by the plaintiff's spouse against the paramour or lover with whom the spouse had an affair. However, it's important to note that proof of extramarital sexual intercourse or any sexual conduct is generally not required to succeed in an alienation of affection claim.

In addition, there have been instances in which the defendant in an alienation of affection lawsuit has been a clergy member, therapist, or counselor who advised a spouse to seek a divorce. In some cases, there can also be a charge of "criminal conversation" for breaking up a marital relationship. 

Defenses to an Alienation of Affection Lawsuit

There are a few defenses available to a defendant in an alienation of affection lawsuit. The plaintiff doesn't have to prove that the defendant had the intention of destroying the marriage, but rather that he or she intentionally acted in a way that would foreseeably impact the marriage. 

Considering this requirement, it's a valid defense if the defendant didn't know that the person was married. It's also a possible defense if the defendant can provide evidence that the cheating spouse aggressively seduced the defendant.

Since intentional acts or conduct by the defendant are a requirement of such a claim to succeed, another possible defense is that the defendant's actions were inadvertent. Finally, if a defendant can show that the love in the marriage was already lost before his or her acts, this can also serve as a defense.

Get Legal Help with an Alienation of Affection Claim

When you or someone you love is harmed, it's natural to look for someone to blame, and there are times when a particular person may be the reason for the harm that was suffered. Under the civil laws of the United States, you may be able to recover for damages you have suffered as a result of another person's intentional or negligent actions.

If you would like to learn more about the tort of alienation of affection or have questions about other types of torts, you may want to contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.

For more information and resources related to this alienation of affection cases, you can visit FindLaw's Emotional Distress, Privacy, and Dignitary Torts section.

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