A North Carolina man says his divorce was almost unbearable, but an unusual legal claim just landed him a $750,000 judgment.
According to court documents, Kevin Howard recently won a judgment against his ex-wife’s lover for “alienation of affections” — a claim that exists in just a handful of other states across the country — according to court documents.
Alienation of affection laws, sometimes known as “homewrecker” laws, allow the spouse to sue another person for “purposefully interfering with the marital relationship,” according to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute. The person sued is usually the person a spouse cheated with.
Howard had been with his wife for 12 years. When she approached him about separating, the couple started attending marriage counselling. But something felt off, so Howard hired a private investigator, who uncovered the affair, he told CNN.
Howard blamed the other man for alienating his wife from him, according to court records. In August, a judge ruled in Howard’s favour.
“He was a colleague of hers from work,” Howard said. “He ate dinner with us several times, we spent time together … I thought this was a friend.”
But the lawsuit wasn’t just about the money, he said.
“I believe in the sanctity of marriage,” he said. “Other families should see what the consequences are to not only breaking the vow to whatever religion you subscribe to, but also your legal responsibilities.”
Alienation of affection cases are ‘very prevalent’
Cynthia Mills, Howard’s attorney, told CNN she’s argued at least 30 “alienation of affection” cases during her 31-year career. She has five cases of the sort open right now. “It’s very prevalent,” she said.
To have a chance at winning the lawsuit, a cheated-on spouse should be able to show the couple was happy before the affair and a lover came between them. In other words, that a third party got in the way of the relationship and caused its downfall.
Mills said the tort began from old English law, when women were viewed as property. In the same way that a man could sue for the theft of a horse, he could sue for the theft of a wife. Now, any spouse can sue regardless of their gender or their partner.
In many of Mills’ cases, it’s not really about the money, she told CNN.
“The idea is keeping the marriage sanctified and keeping the family together,” she said.
But people have still made some serious bank taking their exes to court.
In 2010, Mills said one of her clients received a verdict of $5.9 million.
Last year, a judge ordered a man pay $8.8 million to a husband whose wife he had been seeing for more than a year. Most of the money awarded consisted of punitive damages meant to penalize the defendant, but $2.2 million was in compensatory, or tangible, damages.
Many states have repealed alienation of affection laws, but they still exist in Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and, of course, North Carolina.