North Carolina is an absolute divorce state. This means that after a year of living separate and apart, a spouse is entitled to petition a court for a no-fault divorce. In other words, the court does not need to find “irreconcilable differences” or “adultery” or any other finding that you’ve heard of or read in tabloids whenever celebrities divorce in a different state. Instead, a North Carolina court just needs to find that it has jurisdiction and that a year has passed since the date of separation.
This does not mean, however, that marital misconduct plays no role when couples separate and divorce. In fact, there are two areas that misconduct may play a role. The first is alimony, where marital misconduct is a factor that the court can consider when awarding or denying spousal support obligations. The other area where a spouse’s bad acts come into play are marital torts.
What are Marital Torts?
A “tort” is a distinctly legal term that refers to a civil cause of action based on an injury caused by a wrongful act or omission. Some commonly known torts include assault, battery, negligence, libel, defamation, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Marital torts are directly related to the wrongful act(s) of a person that injured a plaintiff’s marriage. These are somewhat unusual, as North Carolina is only one of a handful of states that still has or enforces marital torts. The two claims available in this state include:
- Alienation of Affection. This is a claim against a third party whose wrongful and intentional acts have damaged a genuine marital relationship that had love and affection, causing an alienation of that love and affection. These wrongful acts may include sexual relations with the plaintiff’s spouse, but does not have to. For example, there have been successful alienation of affection cases against a partner’s workplace or against a party’s in-laws, but these are extremely rare.
- Criminal Conversation. This is also a claim against a third party, but it differs from alienation of affection because the third party has to have engaged in sexual intercourse with the plaintiff’s spouse during the marriage.
As you can gather, marital torts are targeted at third parties responsible for breaking up a marriage, and not at the spouse who engaged in the misconduct. If the plaintiff prevails, he or she may be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages against that third party.
There are limitations on what actions may be brought forward as an alienation of affection or criminal conversation claim. One limitation is that there is a three-year statute of limitations on an action under these claims. The second is that the action must have taken place during the marriage and prior to the separation date of the couple.
New Direction Family Law
Allegations of infidelity and marital misconduct can be the catalyst for explosive legal proceedings, including marital torts and alimony contests. If you are on either side of such a conflict, you need an attorney who can provide thoughtful, confident guidance. The team at New Direction Family Law can help you. With years of experience, we take pride in standing up for our clients’ legal rights and will work hard to make sure your voice is heard. Call New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation or visit our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law