What is the Law on Criminal Conversation?
If someone interfered with your marriage and had sex with your spouse, you may be able to sue for money damages. North Carolina allows lawsuits for “heart balm” cases: Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation. While related, they’re technically separate grounds to file suit. What is the law on criminal conversation? “Tort” law can be a bit complicated, so here goes:
Criminal Conversation lawsuits are normally brought by the innocent spouse against he guilty spouse’s lover. Heart balm cases have been challenged on legal issues involving:
- Free Speech
- Free Expression
- Free Association
- Substantive Due Process
- North Carolina Land of the Law Clause
Claims for Criminal Conversation allow the plaintiff to seek compensatory relief for:
- Out of Pocket Damages
- Damages compensating any intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Punitive Damages for malicious conduct
Punitive damages claims routinely accompany heart balm cases. NC Courts often play an important role in enforcing and collecting punitive damages in Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation cases.
The purpose of punitive damages is to:
Punish a defendant for egregiously wrongful acts and to deter the defendant and others from committing similar wrongful acts – N.C. Gen. Stat. Sect. 1D-1
Punitive damages are allowed in common law actions. The torts of Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation are common law actions in NC.
- Punitive damages may be awarded only if the claimant proves that the defendant is liable for compensatory damages and that one of the following aggravating factors was present and was related to the injury for which compensatory damages were awarded:
- Willful or wanton conduct
- The claimant must prove the existence of an aggravating factor by clear and convincing evidence.
- That plaintiff and the plaintiff’s spouse were happily married, and that a genuine love and affection existed between them;
- That the love and affection so existing was alienated and destroyed;
- That the wrongful and malicious acts of defendant produced and brought about the loss and alienation of such love and affection.
Hankins v. Hankins, 202 N.C. 358 (1932). An action for alienation of affections is comprised of wrongful acts which are said to deprive a married person of the affections of his or her spouse, including love, society, companionship and comfort.What is Criminal Conversation in North Carolina?
The term “adultery” is synonymous with “criminal conversation.” The basis for a cause of action and lawsuit in NC is the right of exclusive sexual intercourse between spouses. To prove Criminal Conversation in court there are two, general, requirements:
- The actual marriage between the spouses;
- Sexual intercourse between the defendant and plaintiff’s spouse.
There cannot be a lawsuit for Alienation of Affection or Criminal Conversation that occurs AFTER the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s spouse PHYSICALLY SEPARATE with the intent by either party that the physical separation remain permanent.
There is a Statute of Limitations in North Carolina involving heart balm cases. All lawsuits for both criminal conversation and alienation of affection must be commenced within 3 YEARS from the last act of the defendant giving rise to the claim. Another oddity: Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation lawsuits can only be brought in North Carolina “against a natural person only.” A natural person is a person that is an individual human being, as opposed to a business entity or non-governmental organization or government body.
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