Finding out your spouse has committed adultery is emotionally devastating. For some people, the emotional toll is so great that it causes significant depression, anxiety, and other mood swings that significantly affect their work and personal lives. Some people experience severe insomnia, racing obsessive thoughts, sudden weight loss, or uncontrollable crying. The emotional and mental consequences can last for years. For this reasonfamily lawClients often ask if they can sue the cheating spouse for emotional distress. The answer in North Carolina is most likely no.
There are exceptions to this general rule. In North Carolina, you can sue your spouse for intentionally inflicting emotional distress (IIED) if their behavior toward you was so "extreme and outrageous" that it caused you severe emotional distress. In these cases, the plaintiff seeks money from the defendant to compensate for the damage caused by the spouse's harmful conduct. Punitive damages may also be awarded.
However, spouses generally cannot sue each other for the psychological damage caused by an affair. Why not? In IIED lawsuits, the defendant's conduct must be more than abusive, disruptive, or abusive. The behavior must be considered so "extreme and outrageous" that it "shatters the conscience of the average citizen". Instead of a jury, a judge first decides whether the alleged conduct meets this legal threshold. To date, in these spousal cases, the North Carolina appellate courts have not ruled that adulterous conduct by itself meets the required "extreme and outrageous" legal standard. This is consistent with the majority of appellate court decisions of several other states that have addressed the same issue. To learn more about what constitutes extreme and outrageous behavior in intentionally inflicting emotional distress in North Carolina,Click here.
Does this mean that a cheating spouse has no cure? Not necessarily. While the threshold for extreme and outrageous behavior in emotional distress lawsuits between spouses can be high enough to effectively prevent most lawsuits, the North Carolina appellate courts did not rule absolutely at this time that under no circumstances should one spouse be a spouse for the sake of the other A related behavior sue can lead to an affair. Each case is fact specific and should be analyzed individually on its own merits.
For example, if your spouse contracted herpes through an adulterous affair and then passed it on to you (or vice versa), your case has more potential claims than adultery. In this situation, a court can determine that the behavior reaches the extreme and outrageous threshold and allow an emotional distress claim (as well as a variety of other claims).
If your spouse cheated on you or you cheated on your spouse while living together in North Carolina, the third partner (the person you or your spouse was having an affair with) could potentially be suedalienation from tendenciesand orcriminal talk. North Carolina is one of the few states that still recognizes both of these claims.
A person can be held liable for alienation of affection if the plaintiff can prove the three things. First, that there was genuine love and affection between the spouses. The marital relationship does not have to be perfect; It is enough to show that a certain level of love and affection existed before the third party interfered. Second, that the defendant's conduct was aimed at destroying the marital relationship. In this respect, the careless indifference of the third party to the fact that the behavior would destroy the marriage is already sufficient as intent. Third, that the behavior actually damaged the marital relationship. The affair doesn't have to be the only reason for the end of the marriage. It is sufficient if it is a dominant reason.
A criminal conversation, on the other hand, is simply having sex with a married person who is not yet separated from their spouse. If you have sex with a married person in North Carolina who is not yet separated, you could technically be sued for criminal entertainment, even if there wasn't genuine love and affection between the spouses and even if your actions didn't result in the end of the marriage have . In practice, however, most criminal talk charges are typically filed along with alienation claims of affection in situations where the person leaves their spouse to be with the affair partner.
In determining the amount of damages to be awarded in both alienation of affection cases and criminal talk cases, the jury will consider a variety of evidence, including the psychological and emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff, damage to the plaintiff's reputation, the loss of support and the loss of the syndicate (i.e. loss of the marital union of the other spouse). The jury also considers the quality of the parties' marriage prior to third party interference. Typically, a jury is likely to award more damages if the evidence shows the spouses were in a really good relationship before the affair. On the other hand, where the spouses had significant marital problems even before the third party became involved, the damages, if any, awarded may be minimal, for example if there were previous affairs by one or both spouses before the third party even came into the picture. It is even possible for the jury to rule that the defendant is liable for a criminal conversation resulting from sex with the plaintiff's wife, but the defendant is not liable for the alienation of affection, and the plaintiff is only one dollar in nominal damages to speak .
Some North Carolina plaintiffs have received large sums of money in alienation of affection and criminal talk cases. In recent years, at least two North Carolina plaintiffs have obtained multimillion-dollar judgments against the mistress. In these two most recent cases, the defendant failed to appear in court to defend himself against the lawsuit, which likely affected the size of the award. In cases where the third party is filing the lawsuit, it is more difficult to predict the outcome, especially when the trial is before a jury rather than just a bench trial by a judge. In cases of estrangement and criminal talks, either party has the right to request a jury trial.
The decision to file an alienation of affection and criminal conversation lawsuit should not be taken lightly. The lawsuit is not a one-way street. Prosecuting the lawsuit can be very costly, particularly if the defendant chooses to appear and vigorously defend the claims, as is often the case. The costs include not only legal fees, but in many cases also additional costs in connection with the involvement of experts. Plaintiffs should also be prepared to scrutinize their marital relationship and personal life. When a plaintiff seeks damages related to mental anguish and emotional distress, this usually opens the door for the defendant to gain access to the plaintiff's medical and mental health records. For some, the fact that sensitive, private mental health information must be shared with the defendant only makes the violation more offensive. Finally, in many situations, the defendant has few assets that could be used to satisfy a judgment. All of these factors (as well as others) should be considered when deciding whether to file a lawsuit against a third party for adultery with your spouse.
On our podcast, Jaime Davis discusses the potential impact adultery can have on a family law case, as well as potential claims a spouse can have against the third party for alienation of affection and criminal conversation.
Podcast 6: The Potential Price of Cheating: Adultery, Alimony and Alienation of Affection
Click here to listen!
Nicole Taylorhas been a trial attorney since 1996 and joined Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC in 2006. Her practice focuses on complex just distribution litigation. Nicole is also a certified family finance case mediator and has been a guest speaker and author of materials for several legal education programs, including the annual North Carolina Family Law Bar Conference. If you have a question about this article, you can email Nicole firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you sue a cheater for emotional distress? ›
You generally can sue someone for intentional infliction of emotional distress if you can prove the following elements: The defendant acted act intentionally or recklessly. The defendant's conduct was extreme and outrageous. The conduct was the cause of severe emotional distress.Can you sue for getting cheated on? ›
A: Adultery is illegal in some states, but not in California. Although it may not be moral, your friend cannot be sued for adultery, or so-called alienation of affection (in other words, causing the marital break-up).What states can you sue a homewrecker? ›
As of 2022, only Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah still allow alienation of affection lawsuits. And even though these suits might still technically be allowed, courts in most of these states have expressed a dislike for them.Is cheating intentional infliction of emotional distress? ›
In explaining its rationale with respect to Criminal Conversation, the court states that a cheated-upon spouse “may also be able to bring a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the offending spouse and against a third party based on interference with the marriage relationship.” In ...Does emotional cheating hold up in court? ›
While emotional affairs can be just as damaging to the marriage as physical affairs, they do not constitute adultery in divorce court.What states is adultery a crime? ›
In 2022, adultery by some definition is still a crime in 16 states: Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Idaho, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Utah, New York, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.What counts as being cheated on? ›
What Is Infidelity? Infidelity, or cheating, is the act of being unfaithful to a spouse or other partner. It typically means engaging in sexual or romantic relations with a person other than one's significant other, breaking a commitment or promise in the act.What legal action can be taken against cheating husband? ›
Under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which was the section dealing with adultery, a man who had consensual sexual intercourse with the wife of another man without that husband's consent or connivance could have been punished for this offence with up to five years imprisonment, a fine or both.Can you sue a woman for messing with your husband? ›
States Recognizing Alienation of Affection
If you live in Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, or Utah, you have legal recourse should someone intrude into your marriage by having an affair with your spouse. The rest of the country has struck down its laws related to adultery.
Moreover, California does not have a criminal statute against adultery. This means you typically cannot sue someone for having an affair with your husband.
What states have alienation of affection? ›
Alienation of affection laws are rare, and only six states still use them. North Carolina is among them, along with New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Hawaii, and Mississippi.How do courts determine infliction of emotional distress? ›
The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress has four elements: (1) the defendant must act intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant's conduct must be extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct must be the cause (4) of severe emotional distress.How do you prove infliction of emotional distress? ›
- The defendant's conduct was outrageous,
- The conduct was either reckless or intended to cause emotional distress; and.
- As a result of the defendant's conduct you suffered severe emotional distress.
Dr. Dennis Ortman describes those who've discovered a partner's affair as traumatized. Ortman names this trauma response Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD), in his 2009 book. You might experience symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress.How do you prove cheating in court? ›
The person alleging adultery must prove that their spouse committed an adulterous act via direct evidence (e.g., eyewitness accounts; admissions by the guilty spouse and/or the paramour) or, more often, via circumstantial evidence.How do you prove someone is cheating in court? ›
Proving adultery took place in your marriage is difficult but possible. Direct evidence (not hearsay) can come in the form of proof, such as eyewitness testimony or the guilty party admitting to the adultery (can be either the spouse or the paramour). There is also circumstantial evidence that can act as proof.What is considered mentally cheating? ›
What Does It Mean To Mentally Cheat? Mentally cheating is thinking about cheating or being with someone else outside of your marriage or relationship. If you are in a relationship or married and there is someone you cannot stop thinking about who isn't your partner, it could be said that you are cheating.What are 3 warning signs of emotional distress? ›
- Heaviness in your chest, increased heart rate or chest pain.
- Shoulder, neck or back pain; general body aches and pains.
- Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw.
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling tired, anxious, depressed.
Emotional distress can often qualify for both special and general damages. Because of this, pain and suffering compensation usually amounts to 2 to 5 times the total costs of medical bills (therapies, medications, etc.) and lost wages from missed work. This amount can vary significantly on a case-by-case basis.What are the punishments for adultery? ›
In the United States, punishment for adultery can vary widely from state to state, from life imprisonment (Michigan) to a small monetary fine (Maryland). However, though adultery laws may still be on the books in the U.S., they are rarely enforced.
What's the difference between adultery and infidelity? ›
What is the Difference Between Infidelity and Adultery? Adultery often refers to a physical relationship outside of marriage. It occurs when one partner is sexually involved with another without their partner's consent. Unlike adultery, infidelity can be physical, emotional, or both.Is adultery a federal crime? ›
Until the mid-20th century, most U.S. states (especially Southern and Northeastern states) had laws against fornication, adultery or cohabitation. These laws have gradually been abolished or struck down by courts as unconstitutional. State criminal laws against adultery are rarely enforced.What are the three types of cheating? ›
- Physical cheating. ...
- Having sexual fantasies about someone else. ...
- Having romantic feelings about someone else. ...
- Secret spending. ...
- Secret social media activity.
There are two main categories of infidelity: Physical and Emotional. An affair is generally considered to be a secondary relationship that is a combination of types and possibly fall under both main categories of physical and emotional infidelity.Is deleting messages considered cheating? ›
Just because you haven't had sex with someone else doesn't mean you are being faithful. Emotional affairs, work spouses, deleting texts, and keeping in touch with exes can all be forms of infidelity.What rights does a cheating spouse have? ›
Generally speaking, your husband's infidelity doesn't grant you any special rights in your divorce. You are entitled to a divorce if you want one – and because California is a no-fault divorce state, you don't have to have a reason at all.What is the charge for cheating on your spouse? ›
Although adultery is a misdemeanor in most of the states with laws against it, some including Michigan and Wisconsin categorize the offense as a felony. Punishments vary widely by state.What states can you sue your spouse for cheating? ›
If you live in Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, or Utah, you have legal recourse should someone intrude into your marriage by having an affair with your spouse. The rest of the country has struck down its laws related to adultery.Can you be sued for something your spouse did? ›
Typically, you cannot be personally sued because of your spouse's own legal errors. But there are exceptions. So, if your spouse bought something and didn't pay for it, you can be sued for it in Illinois…even after your divorce. There is another big exception: medical debts.How do I file a case against my cheating husband? ›
The wife may consult a lawyer and then draft the petition to be filed before the district Court. Under Section 22 of the Special Marriage Act, a petition for restitution of conjugal rights can be filed by the wife before the district Court.
What to do if your spouse cheats on you? ›
- Don't make rash decisions. If you think you might physically hurt yourself or someone else, seek help from a medical professional right away.
- Give each other space. The discovery of an affair can be intense. ...
- Seek support. ...
- Take your time.
- Make sure there is remorse.
- Be honest about why it happened.
- Remove temptations to re-engage with the affair.
- Move forward with brutal honesty and care.
- Be selective about who you tell.
- Consider working with a licensed therapist.
mistress. noun. a woman who is having a sexual relationship with a married man.What is a suit for alienation of affection? ›
Alienation of Affection is a lawsuit brought by a married (or formerly married) person, who alleges that the actions of a third party deprived the married (or formerly married) person of the love and affection of his or her spouse. Alienation of Affection is a common law tort.What civil code is alienation of feelings? ›
Article 26 NCC provides several areas where a person can file an “alienation of affection” case: privacy of residence; marriage and family; friendships; religious beliefs, status in life, etc.What states have the easiest divorce? ›
Alaska, Nevada, and South Dakota can usually finalize a divorce in just under two months. Of course, each divorce is different and your particular circumstances could cause a delay. For example, the fastest divorces are ones in which you and your Soon-to-Be-Ex agree on everything (an uncontested divorce).What are three defenses to infliction of emotional distress? ›
To succeed in a claim for IIED, you will need to demonstrate that the following three elements are present in your case: It must consist of extreme and outrageous acts; Its purpose must have been to cause harm; and. It must have caused severe emotional injury.What is an example of negligent infliction of emotional distress? ›
For example, while a mother and her son are on a sidewalk, a driver negligently swerves onto the sidewalk, hitting and injuring the son. If the mother suffers serious emotional distress, she may have a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against the driver because she witnessed her son's injury.What factors must the plaintiff prove to successfully sue for the infliction of mental suffering? ›
- The Defendant's conduct was flagrant and outrageous;
- The Defendant's conduct was calculated to harm the Plaintiff; and.
- The Defendant's conduct caused the Plaintiff to suffer a visible and provable illness.
IIED differs from negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) in that the infliction of emotional distress was intentional or outrageous, compared to NIED, which is emotional distress caused typically by accident or unintentional carelessness.
What is the legal definition of emotional distress? ›
noun. emo·tion·al distress. : a highly unpleasant emotional reaction (as anguish, humiliation, or fury) which results from another's conduct and for which damages may be sought. called also emotional harm, mental anguish, mental distress, mental disturbance, mental suffering.Can you get PTSD from being cheated on? ›
Research shows that betrayed partners, after learning that their significant other has strayed, typically experience stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms characteristic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).Can you get PTSD from cheating? ›
What Is Post Infidelity Stress Disorder? So, what exactly is Post Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD)? It is not an actual diagnosis, however, post-discovery of an affair, the reactions often parallel those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).What is the psychological effects of being cheated on? ›
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety have been linked to infidelity. A person may also experience relationship anxiety, which often results in a person feeling more insecure about themselves. It can also induce doubt towards one's partner, and excessive worry that one will be cheated on again.Can you sue your partner for emotional trauma? ›
You can make a compensation claim against your spouse if they caused you severe emotional distress. The criteria for cases involving a loved one (including a spouse or family member) are the same as filing other emotional distress lawsuits.Can you sue someone for emotional damage in a relationship? ›
The courts recognize emotional distress as a type of damage that can be recovered through a civil lawsuit. This means you can sue someone for emotional trauma or distress if you can provide evidence to support your claims.How do you prove emotional injury? ›
- The defendant had a duty to behave reasonably and to not behave outrageously or in an extreme manner likely to cause distress.
- The defendant breached that duty by intentionally or recklessly behaving outrageously.
Yes, you can sue for emotional abuse. Attorneys across the United States recognize emotional abuse as a cause of action, allowing families of those victims of emotional abuse in nursing homes to sue in response to their loved ones' mistreatment.How do you calculate damages for emotional distress? ›
Once the attorney has argued for emotional distress damages, he or she will then calculate a settlement amount using what's called a “multiplier method.” It works by adding up all the tangible or economic damages, like medical costs and lost wages, and then multiplying that sum by a given number, usually between 1.5 ...Is emotional distress a crime? ›
Intentional infliction of emotional distress is an act considered so terrible and outrageous that it causes severe harm to the victim. In legal terms, IIED is classified as a civil tort. A civil tort is an act or omission that causes injury or harm to another person, resulting in legal liability for the offender.
What is negligent infliction of emotional distress? ›
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
This means that even when there is no intent to harm, or reckless disregard of the risk of harm, one who has suffered severe mental harm can seek to recover damages caused by someone else's negligent conduct.
Is Emotional Distress Punitive Damages? Emotional distress usually falls under compensatory damages, not punitive damages. This type of mental anguish can involve fear, anxiety, the loss of enjoyment of life and the loss of sleep.What emotional things can you sue for? ›
You could recover for emotional distress in a personal injury lawsuit if an ordinary person would have trouble coping with the mental stress and fallout in the same circumstances. While some people may experience physical symptoms as a result of their emotional distress, they are not necessary to prove your case.Can I sue my ex for narcissistic abuse? ›
Yes, you can sue for emotional abuse. Attorneys across the United States recognize emotional abuse as a cause of action, allowing families of those victims of emotional abuse in nursing homes to sue in response to their loved ones' mistreatment.Can I file a case against my husband for cheating on me? ›
Mohamed Imranullah S. If an extramarital relationship of a man causes serious domestic discord between the married couple, then he can be convicted for causing mental cruelty to his wife under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sentenced to imprisonment, the Madras High Court has said. Justice D.