In some US states, a married person could sue a third-party for interfering with or causing a breakup of the marriage. These actions are known by both legal and non-legal terms: alienation of affection, criminal conversation, heart balm lawsuits, homewrecker laws and broken heart laws.
For Alienation of Affection, the relationship outside of marriage does not necessarily have to include sexual intercourse or other sexual activity, or the third-party could be a therapist, family member or other person who may have caused the other spouse to end the marriage. Criminal Conversation could be loosely defined as a civil suit a married person could take against a third-party if that person had sexual intercourse with the person’s spouse (see the Adultery Topic).
Some of the reasons a lawsuit could be brought include that the third-party person was the reason for a separation in the marriage, breakup of the marriage or emotional distress. Financial compensation could be an outcome.
Not every state offers these legal actions, and elements of a claim may vary by state. A person considering such a legal action would normally consult with a legal professional.
- Can I Sue The Other Woman For Destroying My Marriage?
“Depending on where you live, you may be able to file suit against the other woman (or man) through one of two types of civil tort claims – ‘criminal conversation’ or ‘alienation of affection.’ The overwhelming majority of states have abolished these types of ‘heart balm’ lawsuits, but as of 2018, the following states still allow spouses to sue ‘home wreckers’ – Hawaii, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Utah.”
Lina Guillen, attorney, divorcenet.com, accessed 6/6/2022
- Alienation Of Affection And Criminal Conversation Claims
“In the North Carolina legal statutes, alienation of affection means the willful and malicious act of fracturing an otherwise happy marriage, while criminal conversation refers to the affair itself.”
Parsons Law, PA, attorneyparsons.com, accessed 6/6/2022; (Broken link removed 8/2023)
- Difference Between Alienation Of Affection & Criminal Conversation
“When discussing civil lawsuits over adultery, the legal claim known as Criminal Conversation is generally lumped together with another legal claim called Alienation of Affection. Both legal claims have fallen out of favor over the years in most states. … In both types of lawsuits, the defendant is a third-party and not one of the spouses in the marriage. … Criminal conversation is the name for a civil (not criminal, as the name implies) lawsuit requires the plaintiff to allege and prove the occurrence of sexual intercourse between the defendant and the plaintiff’s spouse – adultery.”
MyFamilyLaw.com, myfamilylaw.com, accessed 6/6/2022
- Do Alienation Of Affection Laws Treat Women As Property?
“Some pundits feel that alienation of affections laws treat wives as property, even though they are gender-neutral. Many other critics have described these ‘Homewrecker Laws’ as demeaning and archaic. In fact, although affair partners are most typically the target of these suits, a family member, religious counselor, or even a couple’s therapist might also be sued under these laws. A claim of Alienation of Affection is pretty challenging to prove. There are several necessary conditions to establish a claim several elements and there are several defenses.”
Daniel Dashnaw, marriage and family therapist, Couples Therapy Inc., couplestherapyinc.com, accessed 6/6/2022
- Alienation Of Affection
“An alienation of affection lawsuit (also known as a ‘homewrecker’ or ‘heart balm’ lawsuit) is a claim brought by a spouse who believes that he or she has been deserted as the result of a third party’s wrongful action. This sort of case often involves an extramarital lover who has caused the cheating spouse to lose affection for his or her spouse. The purpose of the lawsuit is to recover money for the damages suffered by the aggrieved spouse.”
Close Smith Family Law (North Carolina), closefamilylaw.com, accessed 6/6/2022
- Where Is Adultery Illegal?
“Most laws prohibiting adultery are gone, but in a few states, there are still laws on the books. They’re generally unenforced because they’re archaic, and many include language like ‘criminal conversation.’ (They used that term because it was too risqué to say ‘sex.’)”
Maples Family Law, maplesfamilylaw.com, accessed 6/6/2022
- Home-Wrecker Laws: Alienation Of Affection And Criminal Conversation
“When your marriage has ended and you discover that it is because your spouse has had an affair and/or has fallen in love with someone else, you may be tempted to seek revenge against the person who has ‘stolen’ your spouse’s affections. Before you race off to court, you should check the laws of your state regarding these types of claims, as well as their success rates.”
HG.org Legal Resources, hg.org, accessed 6/6/2022
- Infidelity & Alienation Of Affection
“For instance, it is not necessary for you to prove that the mistress actually set out to destroy your marriage, simply showing that she engaged in acts that would have a foreseeable impact on your marriage is enough.”
Rosen Law Firm, North Carolina Divorce, rosen.com, accessed 6/6/2022
- Alienation Of Affection And Criminal Conversation
“Lack of knowledge of the marriage between the plaintiff and his/her spouse is a defense to an alienation of affection claim. In contrast, if you engage in sexual intercourse with someone who is married, whether you were aware of the marital status or not, a claim of criminal conversation may be filed against you.”
Parker Bryan Britt Tanner & Jenkins, PLLC (North Carolina), parkerbryanfamilylaw.com, accessed 6/6/2022
- 4 Legal Issues You Should Consider if Your Spouse Has Cheated
“In order to pursue alienation of affection and meet the legal requirements of the claim, you must prove that genuine love and affection existed between you and your spouse prior to your separation or divorce and that a third party was a controlling and proximate cause of your spouse’s alienation of affection from you. It doesn’t have to be the only reason for your spouse leaving or being unfaithful, but it has to be a controlling factor.”
Robin Lalley, divorcemag.com, 7/29/2021