Can You Sue Someone for Breaking Up Your Marriage in North Carolina?

There are few things in life more painful than finding out a spouse has been unfaithful. Such a revelation can make it impossible to trust that person again, and almost always results in the end of a marriage. There are many complicated feelings that go along with finding out you’ve been cheated on. You may want your spouse or the person they were unfaithful with to compensate you for these feelings. Though such legal actions are becoming less common, North Carolina actually allows spouses who have been cheated on to pursue “heart balm” lawsuits to collect a judgment from someone who has broken up an otherwise happy marriage.


Two Types of Cases: Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation

North Carolina recognizes two types of heart balm actions. The first, alienation of affection, requires proving three elements:


  • A happy marriage with genuine love and affection existed;
  • This love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and
  • Wrongful and malicious acts on the part of the defendant led to the alienation and destruction of the love and affection of the marriage.


Because of the broad range of actions that could lead to alienation of affection, anyone from family members to therapists can be sued under this claim.


The second heart balm action, criminal conversation requires only two elements and specifically applies to someone who induces a spouse to cheat:


  • A lawful marriage in which the couple lived together existed; and
  • The defendant had a sexual relationship with the spouse of the plaintiff.


The Current State of Heart Balm Actions in North Carolina

Actions for alienation of affection and criminal conversation may seem old-fashioned, and indeed they are rare. North Carolina is one of only six states that still allows a plaintiff to pursue a heart balm case, and even then only a couple hundred are filed in the state each year.


Such cases can also be quite difficult and time-consuming to prove. In the case of alienation of affection cases, defendants will usually claim that the marriage had already broken down to the point that there was no longer genuine love and affection. However, that doesn’t mean that these cases are unwinnable. In 2009, a North Carolina woman won a $9 million verdict from another woman believed to be her husband’s mistress.


However, there is also some indication that heart balm actions may be falling out of favor with North Carolina courts. In 2014, one superior court judge in Forsyth County held that such actions were unconstitutional. This case is not binding on other superior courts though, and neither the NC Court of Appeals nor the North Carolina Supreme Court have recently addressed the constitutionality of heart balm cases.


Divorce and Family Law Attorneys Fighting for You

The attorneys of Remington & Dixon, PLLC can help represent your interests in a divorce proceeding and understand if an action for alienation of affection or criminal conversation is right for you. To speak with compassionate divorce attorneys in Charlotte, contact the firm of Remington & Dixon, PLLC today. Consultations are completely confidential.


Are consultations free?

While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

Where can I get legal advice?

We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

Can I hire you if I’m in another state?

This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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