I recently read a news story out of North Carolina, where “the other man” was found liable for the break up of a high-profile marriage, and was assessed damages in excess of $8 million. It’s called Alienation of Affection, and it’s the law of the land in seven states.
If the jilted spouse can prove that (a) there was love in the marriage; (b) the love was destroyed or alienated; and (c) the defendant caused or contributed to the loss of affection, a successful lawsuit is likely.
As a divorce mediator, I can tell you that the subject of infidelity comes up frequently in my office. In Nevada where I practice, the “Alienation of Affection” rule does not apply. But what if it did? How does one go about proving someone else is responsible for the end of the relationship?
It’s human nature to assess blame first and responsibility later. I get that. But let’s look in the mirror here. To quote someone very near and dear to me, “If you’re happy in your relationship, it doesn’t matter who dances naked in front of you.” Putting that into context means that when infidelity occurs, it’s a matter of choice. Blaming the ‘naked dancer’ is like blaming the local liquor store for alcoholism.
Instead, take a brutally honest look at yourself. What did you (or didn’t you) do to contribute to the demise of your relationship? I can tell you firsthand, both professionally and personally, that relationships don’t end overnight, and it’s never only one partner’s fault. Never. Were you working too many hours? Were you paying too little attention to your spouse? Were you taking each other for granted?
So let’s say you’re now divorced and in your own mind, you’ve continued to blame “the other woman.” Where do you go from here? Do you move on with your life? I hope so. Do you let go of the anger and blame that’s likely holding you back? I hope so. Do you take some responsibility for what went wrong in your relationship? I hope so. And do you learn from this experience so as not to repeat it? I hope so.
On the other hand, if you live in Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, or Utah, you can sue the person who allegedly wrecked your marriage. In North Carolina alone, I’ve read, there are about 200 cases filed per year for alienation of affection. I don’t think many result in an $80 million judgment, though, so don’t get too excited.
In my opinion, this type of lawsuit is unhealthy. I can only imagine the vitriol spewing throughout the litigation process. Hatred, anger, and blame can manifest not only in your mental health (i.e., stress, anxiety, depression) but in your physical health as well. As Frank Sinatra once said, “The best revenge is massive success.” That’s the direction I’d choose.
What would you do?