If you live in North Carolina, you’ve probably known someone who has sued or been sued for the tort of alienation of affection. Or you’ve at least heard of a jilted spouse who wants to sue the spouse’s lover. According to Wikipedia (and they’re never wrong, right?), North Carolina is one of only 7 states that still allows lawsuits for alienation of affection. This law has been around for a long time, has survived numerous attempts at repeal, and is used today far more often than you might expect. Thus, in North Carolina an outsider who interferes in another’s marriage can be in some really hot water. For decades, NC juries have awarded large sums to husbands and wives whose marriages were broken up by third parties.
Now, however, one plaintiff is trying to apply this old (many would argue outdated) law to very new technology — the dating-while-married website Ashley Madison, whose motto is “Life is short. Have an affair.” One North Carolina man is suing the website for alienation of affection and claiming that the online dating service aided his wife in finding her paramour. Before any jilted spouses get big ideas about suing any person or business who facilitates or encourages an affair, however, they should know that the suit has little chance of succeeding. For one thing, the legislature in 2009 passed an amendment that prevents spouses from suing businesses that play a role in extramarital affairs (hotels, restaurants, clubs…). Plus, the website was merely a facilitator of the cheating, not the actual perpetrator. If the plaintiff’s wife hadn’t met her boyfriend on Ashley Madison, couldn’t she have met someone on any other dating site? Or any bar?
While this man’s lawsuit will most likely be dismissed, many North Carolinians successfully sue their cheating spouses’ lovers for alienation of affection. In order to prove alienation of affection, they must show:
- That the couple was happily married and a genuine love and affection existed between them;
- That the love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and
- That the wrongful and malicious acts of the defendant caused the alienation of affection.
What do you think? Is this type of lawsuit outdated? Should we be able to sue those who facilitate or encourage the cheating, in addition to the actual person who does the cheating?