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Can You Sue Your Ex-Husband’s Girlfriend for “Alienation of Affections”?
Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Can You Sue Your Ex-Husband’s Girlfriend for “Alienation of Affections”?

by Laura Monroe

In decades past, an essential component of divorce law concerned what is known as the alienation of affections tort—a law that made suing an interfering boyfriend or girlfriend of a spouse a feasible proposition. At its heart, this law was designed to prevent interference in a marital relationship by a third party, although it originally primarily focused on a husband’s property rights and how those rights specifically applied to his wife. However, as the law’s position on the status of married women has evolved, it has also brought the legal justification of alienation of affections into question. Currently, 43 states in the U.S. have abolished what they consider to be an archaic tort. Here’s a look at the history of this law and why its use has declined in much of the United States

A History of “Alienation of Affections”
The alienation of affections tort grew out of common law causes for action aimed against such activity as enticement and seduction. It was first used in the U.S. in a New York decision in 1866. As the law stood, it established liability for any party who alienated the affection of one spouse from the other, as this was considered to be detrimental to the other spouse’s marital interests. In order for the party to be liable, the marriage must have been valid at the time the infraction occurred, wrongful conduct had to be established on the part of the defending party, an injury to the innocent spouse had to be demonstrated, and a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the ensuing loss had to have been firmly established.

The Decline of “Alienation of Affections” in Recent Years
As the legal rights of married women have expanded over the years, an overwhelming number of states have opted to get rid of the tort of alienation of affections altogether. Most jurisdictions cite the driving reason for the abolishment to be that the concepts upon which the law is based are out of step with modern law in today’s society. In other words, women are no longer seen as marital property whose “services” belong solely to her husband.

The majority of state judicial systems have done away with the alienation of affections tort via what are known as heart balm statutes, which effectively serve to abolish amatory torts such as alienation of affections, but also related statutes like criminal conversation, seduction, and breach of marriage promise laws. Among reasons cited within different state decisions include the assumed primary motive of revenge and the lack of ability of the statute to serve as a useful means of preserving the marriage.

What all this means is that in most states, a spurned spouse will have no justifiable cause for action if they try to go after an ex’s girlfriend or boyfriend for interfering in the marriage. Furthermore, due to the shift in climate surrounding this tort, even the states that would support such a civil suit are most likely going to have strict limitations on the definition of alienation of affections, time frames, and the amount of recoverable damages allowable if the suit is a success.

HEART BALM STATUTES, STATE BY STATE

 

State

 

Abolition of Alienation of Affections

 

Abolition of Breach of Marriage Promise

 

Abolition of Criminal

Conversation

 

Abolition of Seduction Statutes

 

Retention of Tort of Alienation of Affection

 

AL

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

AK*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AZ

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AR

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

CA

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

CO

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

CT

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

DE

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

DC

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

FL

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

GA

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

HA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

ID

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

IL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

IN

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

IA

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

KA

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KY

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

LA

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ME

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

MD

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

MA

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

MI

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

MN

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

MS

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

MO

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

MT

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

NE

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

NV

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

NH

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

NJ

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

NM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

NY

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

NC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

ND

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

OH

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

OK

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

X

 

 

OR

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

PA

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

RI

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

X

 

 

SC

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

SD

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

TN

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

X

 

 

TX

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

UT

 

 

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

VT

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

VA

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

WA

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

WV

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

WI

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

WY

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

 



* There is no reported Alaska authority indicating that the state of Alaska has ever recognized these causes of action.
 

Keywords: alienation of affections, divorce law, heart balm statutes
Posted in: Legal, Syndication
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