Res Ipsa Loquitur–Taking Your Spouse’s Lover to Court

Dear Other Woman:

You have been summoned to appear in court to answer to this lawsuit and pay me for the pain and suffering you have caused me by sleeping with my husband.

Sounds crazy?  Well it’s not if you live in the state of North Carolina.  As I was getting ready for work yesterday morning I heard on the news that the singer/actress Fantasia Barrino attempted suicide on Monday after reading the complaint filed in a North Carolina district court by the wife of the man she had been carrying on a public affair with.

North Carolina is one of the few states which allows a spouse to sue a third party who interferes with a marriage.  Thus, the wife of Fantasia’s loverboy could sue her for restitution.  Is this law fair?  I recently found out that this law existed (they didn’t teach this useful tidbit in my family law class) but I never gave it much thought until now.  Could this law preclude married men and women from cheating?  If a man knew that he could be sued by the husband of the woman he is sleeping with, would that man think twice?  Would a woman reconsider before hollerin’ at a man with a wedding ring on his finger if she knew his wife could take her to court?

The law is a powerful tool and oftentimes it dictates our actions more than our morals.  One may view our laws, not as a way of keeping order and protecting citizens, but rather, as a tool which guides our moral compass.  Therefore, more states should join North Carolina in this Criminal Conversion law.  The law gets even better—a paramour cannot use the defenses that he/she didn’t know that the plaintiff’s spouse was married, or claim that the plaintiff’s spouse consented to their sexual relations (similar to statutory rape laws).  Therefore, the primary defense to a claim of criminal conversion is that the defendant believed that the plaintiff and his/her spouse were separated with the intent to divorce.  Anyway enough of the legal lesson…the bottom line is, you mess with another person’s spouse in North Carolina and you may find yourself in court.

Many people, myself included, may think this is a newly enacted law.  Wrong.  North Carolina has been putting down the gauntlet on cheaters as far back as the 1920’s.  In 1926, a jury awarded $12,000 to a wife who sued her husband’s lover.  In 1990 a jury awarded $300,000 in punitive damages to a spouse, and another jury awarded $1.2 million against a husband’s paramour as compensation to a jilted wife (seems like the women of NC know all about this law).

To all those bitter, angry soon-to-be-divorced men and women out there, due to adulterous spouses, petition your Congress person to adopt North Carolina’s anti-adultery alienation of affection and criminal conversion law.  Even if you’re not married, call your Congress person—you could potentially prevent an affair by your future husband or wife.  Although greater awareness of this law may cause the marriage rate to decline, the law may also facilitate in decreasing the rate of divorces.

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