Alienation of Affections & Criminal Conversation

Alienation of affections and criminal conversation are two separate claims that are often paired together. Both claims are civil actions, also known as “heart balm” actions, which are brought against a third party lover, commonly referred to in litigation as a “paramour.”

For example, let’s say a couple is married. Very generally speaking, the wife has an extramarital relationship that may or may not include sexual relations. As a result of the conduct of the wife’s paramour, the wife’s relationship with her husband diminishes. The husband (plaintiff) then may attempt to sue the wife’s paramour (defendant) for either alienation of affections and/or criminal conversation. Alternatively, if a husband has an extramarital relationship, the wife may attempt to sue his paramour. Both claims have a three year statute of limitations.

These claims are not typically favored in North Carolina. The Court of Appeals has attempted to abolish them on numerous occasions, but was very quickly reversed by the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, the possibility of abolishment grows every year as our legislature views these claims as increasingly antiquated.


Alienation of Affections

Alienation of affections is a civil action against a third party lover because that lover’s conduct deprived the plaintiff of the genuine love, affection, companionship and comfort that previously existed between the plaintiff and his or her spouse. The plaintiff does not have to show evidence of adultery.


The Elements for a Claim of Alienation of Affections

First, it is important to consider that the elements of this claim are tricky because of its very nature. For instance, what is genuine love and affection? How can a jury determine that the love and affection that allegedly existed between a married couple was destroyed because of a third party’s actions? Does the third party have to have sex with the plaintiff’s spouse in order to cause him or her to alienate the affections from that spouse? How can you determine what is wrongful and malicious conduct? Or, that the conduct was the controlling cause of the alienation? What kind of damages are we talking about? How can you put a dollar amount on a lost relationship?