Tort Law

Man awarded $750K in alienation of affection suit; his lawyer calls it a moral victory

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Kevin Howard says his lawsuit against his ex-wife’s lover wasn’t just about the money.

“I believe in the sanctity of marriage,” Howard tells CNN. “Other families should see what the consequences are to not only breaking the vow to whatever religion you subscribe to, but also your legal responsibilities.”

Howard, who lives in Pitt County in North Carolina, sued in August 2017 under the state’s alienation of affection law. He and his wife had separated less than two months before. He was awarded $750,000 in August of this year. The Charlotte Observer and the Washington Post also have coverage.

Howard and his wife divorced in September 2018 after 12 years of marriage.

North Carolina is among six states that still allow suits for alienation of affection. The other states are Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota and Utah, according to CNN.

Howard’s lawyer, Cynthia Mills, told CNN she has argued at least 30 such cases during her legal career, including five cases that are ongoing. In an interview with the Washington Post, she said the award in Howard’s case was “a moral victory,” and he is unlikely to ever see the money.

But some lawyers criticize the impact of such lawsuits. Kellie Chappell-Gonzalez, a founding attorney at Capital to Coast NC Law Group, said the cases become public record, and children of the plaintiffs will be able to see them. She tells the Washington Post that alienation of affection laws authorize a “form of legalized extortion” that is scarring children.

In September 2017, a North Carolina appeals court rejected a constitutional challenge to the tort of alienation of affection and to a similar tort called criminal conversation. The alienation of affection tort is based on wrongful acts that deprive a married person of the affection of his or her spouse. A criminal conversation claim is filed against a non-spouse who has sexual relations with a married person.

The constitutional challenge had argued the torts violate individuals’ First and 14th Amendment rights to engage in intimate sexual activity, speech and expression with other consenting adults.

The court said the tort claims are designed to remedy personal injury “and to protect the promise of monogamy that accompanies most marriage commitments.” The court found the torts advance a substantial governmental interest and satisfy “a robust form of rational basis review.”

The North Carolina Supreme Court refused to hear the case in December 2017, the Winston Salem-Journal reports.

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