Dear Carolyn

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.


Carolyn Answers:

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.


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