Arthur Johns of Wake County recently filed a lawsuit against retiring State Senator Rick Gunn for purportedly breaking up his marriage.  Mr. Johns claimed Senator Gunn had an intentional extramarital affair with his wife, Karen Johns, Senator Gunn’s assistant, and alleged that it caused her to end their marriage.

North Carolina is one of eight states that allow such lawsuits.   North Carolina’s common law permits them.  Such means that judicial decisions or precedent defines the rules and regulations, rather than statutes, which a legislative body, such as Congress or a General Assembly, defines and enacts.  One state statute, however, impacts these matters and will be highlighted when applicable.

There are two claims under these matters:  Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation.

Who are the Parties in Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation Matters?

Mr. Johns sued Senator Gunn in the above matter.  That’s because these cases allow an aggrieved spouse to sue the person that destroyed their spouse’s love and devotion.  Typically, that outsider or third-person is someone with whom their spouse is having an affair.  That third-person, however, could also be anyone who intrudes in their marriage and keeps them apart.  Third-persons could include friends, stepchildren, and parents.

Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation Matters are Tort Claims

These cases are not family or domestic matters.  They are torts.  Even Criminal Conversation, despite its confusing title.  Various judicial decisions refer to them as “heart balm” torts.  A tort is a civil court matter in which wronged or injured individuals pursue financial compensation from the person that harmed them.  The compensation makes the harmed individual “whole.”  While some individuals can sue businesses or other entities in torts, in these matters, aggrieved spouses can only sue people.

Alienation of Affection

To successfully claim Alienation of Affection, a spouse must prove that:

  1. Both spouses sincerely loved one another and were happily married before the third-person interfered.
  2. The affection and love that originally existed between the spouses no longer exist.
  3. The third-party destroyed matrimonial affection and love.

It is important to consider how a spouse must prove the first requirement.  If the marriage had problems and/or the spouses were struggling to stay together at the time the third-party intervened, it may be difficult to prove that sincere love and a happy marriage existed at the time.

Criminal Conversation

To successfully claim Criminal Conversation, a spouse must prove:

  1. That they were truly married to their spouse.
  2. That their spouse had sexual intercourse with the third-party while they were married (i.e. not during any proposed permanent separation).

There are deadlines for filing these claims.  An aggrieved spouse must file their lawsuit within three years from the last time their spouse acted in a manner that would lead to the causes of action.

These cases are obviously challenging, but not impossible.  If you feel you have a valid case, you certainly should consult with an experienced attorney who understands these laws and is also compassionate about these types of situations.  Thomas D. Bumgardner has helped countless individuals through difficult situations and has tremendous compassion for these matters.  He will zealously fight for your rights. Contact him at 704-887-4981 to learn more about the legal services he offers.