I just moved to North Carolina, and I heard that North Carolina has alienation of affection – stealing someone’s spouse. I am 40, and recently single. I have a good job. I asked a lady I met at a bar to go out with me, and she mentioned that she was married, but separated, and she said her lawyer had cautioned her about alienation of affection. What is this? I came from a state where this would have been considered crazy.
North Carolina has torts of alienation of affection and criminal conversation. The elements are alienation of affection are as follows: 1) The couple had a marriage with a genuine marital relationship. 2) The interfering person is a substantial cause of the break-up of the marriage. 3) There are damages. A few years back, the legislature added a statutory limitation that the interference must be before the date of separation for the scorned spouse to have a case. Therefore, in your situation with the lady at the bar, you should be safe and not be a defendant for dating her. However, I would make certain she is not still living with her husband, which puts you at risk.
Criminal conversation is a separate tort and has one primary element: sex with a person’s spouse. This sex must also be prior to the separation of the marital couple. Much has been done to abolish these torts in North Carolina, but other forces sought to keep them. So far, the sources who want these heart-balm torts have prevailed. The torts arise out of old England when women were chattel and could be stolen.
Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at firstname.lastname@example.org, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC 27427. Please do not put identifying information in your questions. Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn…” “Ask Carolyn…” will be a regular column, but not necessarily weekly.