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Family Law

Alienation of Affection & Criminal Conversation

North Carolina is one of the few remaining states that continue to recognize the torts of alienation of affection and criminal conversation as valid causes of action. These family law claims allow a wronged spouse to sue another third party, usually a paramour, for wrongful acts that have deprived them of their spouse’s love and affection. While alienation of affection and criminal conversation are two distinctly different civil claims, they are generally made together and are collectively referred to as “heart-balm” torts. If you are pursuing or defending these claims you need the assistance of a skilled family law attorney to help you navigate the intricacies of these unique actions.

Alienation of Affection

Alienation of affection allows an innocent spouse to seek damages from a third party whose actions resulted in the alienation (or loss) of the love and affection from their spouse. Most often the third party who interferes is a paramour, however, it can be any third party who created this rift. The fundamental requirements needed to prove a claim for alienation of affection are:

  • There was a valid marriage, with genuine love and affection; 
  • The love was demolished or destroyed; 
  • The loss of love was the result of wrongful and malicious behavior by a third party that occurred before the separation. 
  • The destruction of your marriage caused you damages. 

Only Six States Maintain Alienation of Affection Laws

Only North Carolina, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah have laws allowing civil suits for alienation of affection and criminal conversation.  The content on this page is relative to North Carolina law and governs acts occurring in this state.

Criminal Conversation

Closely related to alienation of affection, criminal conversation is a tort claim that is used against a third party who has sexual intercourse with your spouse.  Similar to an alienation of affection claim, this is a civil claim made for monetary damages due to the wrongful and malicious acts of a third party. Often criminal conversation and alienation claims are joined together since the nature of the conduct generally goes hand in hand.  The elements needed to be successful in a criminal conversation claim include:

  • A valid marriage existed;
  • An act of sexual intercourse occurred, or circumstantial evidence of opportunity for it to occur is sufficient;
  • The act occurred during the marriage, before separation. 

Proving or disproving claims of alienation of affection and criminal conversation can be a delicate and complex undertaking best handled by a knowledgeable family law attorney. The strength of a claim hinges on multiple factors, such as the length of the marriage, duration of the affair, if there were children involved, and any relationship the paramour had with an innocent spouse. Evidence used may include pictures, phone call records, text messages, notes, and testimony from relevant parties such as friends and family who can testify to the strength and loving nature of the marriage that existed prior to the affair. In defense of such claims, one would usually attempt to demonstrate a marriage that was deteriorating and offer any evidence to show the affair was not the proximate cause of why the marriage ended, such as constant bickering, sleeping in separate rooms, or even testimony of the parties opening discussing divorce.Damages that a wronged spouse may recover if they are successful can include monetary damages for economic reasons, emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation or shame. However, any claims for alienation of affection and criminal conversation must be brought no later than three years after the alleged act. Failure to timely pursue either claim will result in the loss of ability to sue the third party and recover any damages.

Pursuing these claims can be a difficult and expensive journey and frequently the potential gains are not worth the emotional and financial toll of the pursuit. While damages awarded in these actions can be substantial, it only benefits an injured party if the third party has the assets and means to pay such an award. An experienced attorney can help you assess the situation to determine your options, including a cost-benefit analysis to decide how best to proceed. Depending on the situation and circumstances involved, your claims, or potential claims, for alienation of affection and criminal conversation may need to be discussed in order to negotiate a beneficial settlement of your case.

Unfortunately, extra marital affairs are a recurring theme among some family law cases that ultimately leads to separation and divorce. If you are involved in a separation and divorce from your spouse and you believe you have claims for alienation of affection and criminal conversation, or your need to defend against them, you need to consult with an experienced attorney as these may impact your divorce claims. Our knowledgeable family law attorneys at Hopper Cummings can aid you in your divorce process and provide you with honest and comprehensive advice as to your options. Call us today at 919-533-4115, or complete our online form for a confidential consultation with one of our family law attorneys.


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This article and all of the content on this website are intended for information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice or substituted for consultation with an experienced attorney. We strive to ensure the content on our site is current, informative, and based on North Carolina law and practice procedure in effect at the time of its writing and publication. Call our office to schedule a consultation at 919-533-4115, email us at, or complete a contact form on any page of this site for specific and accurate information about your unique matter.

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