Can I sue the other woman for destroying my marriage?
It is hard to describe the anguish of going through a separation or divorce after several years of marriage. While only a few states allow people to sue others for destroying their marriage, it is one of the best ways for divorced spouses to get closure and move on with their lives. In the states that allow you to sue a third party for ruining your marriage, you can do so through any of two civil tort actions: criminal conversation or alienation of affection.
It is a civil claim for adultery, also known as seduction. These claims were historically referred to as heart balm torts. A balm can heal or soothe pain. These torts are meant to offer a balm for the heart ache caused by a person’s actions that impacted another person’s marriage. Historically, these torts were civil wrongs derived from laws that considered a wife the property of her husband. These claims could only be made by men and allowed them to sue the man who deprived them conjugal relations with their property.
Currently, in the states where these actions are allowed, a woman can sue another woman or third party who ruined her marriage. The injured spouse can demand for money damages from the defendant based on mental anguish, loss of consortium, injury to health, humiliation, and loss of support. In some cases, you may even be entitled to recover punitive damages.
To succeed in a criminal conversation claim you need to have solid proof of your spouse’s infidelity with the other woman. You must prove the following:
- You were in a legal marriage
- Your spouse and the defendant actually had sexual relations
- The sexual relationship occurred in the course of your marriage, not after you got separated
- The adulterous acts occurred within the statute of limitations in the state where you are filing a claim- For example, some states require you to file a lawsuit within a period of three years from the time of the last act of adultery
Alienation of Affection
The other way you can sue the other woman for ruining your marriage is through the legal concept of alienation of affection. With this tort claim, there is no need to prove your spouse’s infidelity. The main basis of this claim is that the other woman’s conduct caused alienation.
Alienation of affection claims can also be brought against any persons who contribute to a marriage breakup. These include therapists, counselors, priests, and family members who advised your spouse to end their marriage.
To prove that there was alienation of affection, you should show:
- You were in a genuinely happy marriage
- The love and affection you shared with your spouse was destroyed
- The third party’s malicious and wrongful acts directly caused this alienation and you were gravely affected
The damages for alienation of affection are similar to those given for criminal conversation: mental anguish, loss of consortium, lack of financial support, humiliation, and injury to health.
The Take Away
Letting go of a long term partner after a divorce can be difficult. One of the measures that provide healing to a person after a divorce is suing the other woman who destroyed their marriage. There are a few states that allow these claims under criminal conversation and alienation of affection standards. Before you attempt to sue another woman for ending your marriage, consult a lawyer for advice on the laws of your state and whether this is a viable legal option.
If your spouse committed adultery, you may be wondering if you can sue the third party for causing the end of your marriage.
In most states, you won’t be able to do this. There are a few states that still have laws regarding criminal conversation and alienation of affection, both of which would allow you to sue a third party for contributing to the end of your marriage, provided you can prove it. Both of these are civil, not criminal charges.
Criminal conversation occurs if your spouse has sexual intercourse with someone else during your marriage. The term itself is based on conversation’s previous meaning of sexual intercourse.
Again, most states have abolished criminal conversation and alienation of affection. In states that allow them, what you’re required to prove can vary. Most will require you to prove to the court a few key elements.
First, you must prove that you were married to your ex-spouse, which is simple enough. Next, you must prove that your spouse had sex with someone else while you two were married, not when you were separated or divorced.
This is what makes it challenging to argue criminal conversation. Your word alone certainly won’t be enough to convince the court that the other woman was having sexual intercourse with your husband. To prove criminal conversation, plaintiffs typically hire private investigators to obtain photographic of video evidence of the adultery.
Every state will have a statute of limitations on criminal conversation. For example, in North Carolina, you’ll have up to three years to file your suit. The statute of limitations begins after the last time your spouse has sexual intercourse with the other woman during your marriage.
It’s important to note that for criminal conversation, you can only sue someone who actually had sexual intercourse with your spouse at the time. Anything less than sexual intercourse does not constitute criminal conversation. The rules on alienation of affection are less strict.
Alienation of Affection
With alienation of affection, you’re claiming that a third party alienated you from your spouse and caused the end of your marriage.
Just like with criminal conversation, there are several elements you must prove for an alienation of affection case.
First, you need to demonstrate that you and your spouse had a happy marriage. This part tends to be simple, as courts will generally assume that the marriage was happy unless evidence otherwise is demonstrated.
You must then prove that a third party’s actions were the direct cause of your spouse becoming alienated from you.
Finally, you must prove that this damaged you. When you end up getting divorced, you can often sue for pain and suffering.
The majority of alienation of affection cases involve one party suing the other man or woman, but this isn’t always the case. Alienation of affection encompasses a wide range of situations, and you could sue any person or party that you felt was directly responsible for your divorce.
That could be your ex-spouse’s family member, friend, therapist or even a business. For example, one man sued both his wife’s new lover and the website where they met, AshleyMadison.com, for alienation of affection. Of course, one reason he was able to sue the website is because it specifically markets itself towards married people who want to have affairs. If it was just a standard dating website, it’s unlikely an alienation of affection case would stand a chance.
Talking to a Divorce Lawyer About Your Situation
If you want to sue the other woman, the smartest thing you can do is talk to a divorce lawyer about it. You shouldn’t get your hopes up, as it may not be possible.
If you live in one of the many states that already abolished criminal conversation and alienation of affection, then you’ll be out of luck. Alienation of affection, for example, is only recognized in six states.
Even if you live in a state that recognizes one or both of these torts, you’ll still need proof that the other woman was a direct cause of your divorce. This means you’ll need to have evidence from when you were married of either the other woman having sexual intercourse with your spouse at the time, or taking other action that directly led to the divorce.