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Alienation of Affections & Criminal Conversation

I’d like to start this blog post with two different scenarios that we see quite frequently in our law practice.

Scenario 1:
It’s late at night and you’re coming home from a long day’s work. You open the door you excited to see your spouse and talk about your day. As you walk in the house you don’t see anyone downstairs. You think to yourself, “that’s strange,” and proceed to walk upstairs. Hearing a noise in the bedroom, you push open the door and there they are…your best friend and your spouse. After you get over the shock and anger you start to look online for your options. As you Google adultery and cheating in NC you come across two terms that you are not familiar with, “alienation of affections” and “criminal conversation.” “This looks interesting,” you say to yourself and click the link.

Scenario 2:
You’re home alone again. Your spouse has been working all day. You’re sure that once off work, your spouse will expect to come home and unload problems on you for several hours. Not ask about your day, or comment on anything that you’ve gotten done around the house. The doorbell rings. It’s your spouse’s best friend. You light up, as you’re always glad to see them and spend some time with them. You feel more connected to them than your own spouse. They come in and one thing leads to another. Before you know it, you are up in the bedroom doing something that you know isn’t ok. You don’t care. As you wrap your arms around your spouse’s best friend the door opens…you’re both caught. Now what?

The answer to this question lies in an old and uncommon set of torts (legal claims for damages) that exist in only a handful of states-- alienation of affections and criminal conversation. Last year alone, more than 400 lawsuits were filed in North Carolina for these two torts. In non-legal terms, alienation of affections is a civil claim that is brought when a third party wrongfully interferes in a loving marriage, causing the destruction or diminishment of the marriage itself.  While these wrongful acts often include adultery or improper sexual conduct that occur before the spouses separate, it can also include non-sexual acts such as when a friend, family or co-worker wrongfully tries to convince a husband or wife to leave their partner. 

Alienation of affections claims are extremely serious.  The law permits recovery for the economic harm to the spouse, attorney’s fees, damages for humiliation and embarrassment and even punitive damages. There have been a number of six and seven figure recoveries against defendants in these cases. Despite this, there are several defenses available for someone sued for alienation of affections. These include a claim that the impacted marriage was not a loving one, the defense of connivance (being set up) and finally condonation (forgiveness).  

Unlike alienation of affections, criminal conversation does not require the destruction of a marriage or the diminishment of loving feelings between spouses. Instead, it’s a legal term for adultery or sex between a third party and a person’s husband or wife prior to their separation. Criminal conversation is a very serious claim often leading to significant recoveries. The adultery can be proved through direct evidence (such as a private investigator or an admission) or through circumstantial evidence. That includes proof that a person was alone with a spouse and had a desire or inclination to have illicit sexual relations with them.

A potential claim for alienation of affections or criminal conversation requires an experienced lawyer to help evaluate your situation. Very few lawyers practice extensively in this area. Morrow Porter Vermitsky & Taylor has been on the forefront of these claims and has litigated these cases in many different counties in both State and Federal Court.  

Attorney John Vermitsky is a family law specialist and is sought after by many firms for his experience in both prosecuting and defending these claims. Similarly, our other family law specialist Natalie Vermitsky and attorney Erin Woodrum are experienced, tenacious and well equipped to give you the best advice in prosecuting or defending these actions. If the scenarios above sound familiar, I urge you to visit our Alienation of Affections page to learn more.