Divorce is hard, but when a third party gets involved in your marriage and it ends, the pain is even worse. Maybe you had an overbearing and meddling mother-in-law who never liked you from the start, and she chipped away at your marriage in various ways resulting in its demise. Or perhaps you or your spouse were married before and have kids from that marriage, and that ex continually meddled in your marriage and personal family affairs to the point where everything fell apart.
What is it?
Alienation of affection, or ‘heart balm’ torts are cases brought in civil court when a third party interferes with an otherwise happy marriage. Many states have eliminated these suits, but North Carolina still has the law on its books. A case decided in 2017 affirmed that these laws remain constitutional because the State has a strong public policy interest in protecting the promise of marriage.
Is it restricted to cheating third parties?
A suit is typically brought against someone who has engaged in infidelity with your spouse, but it can be brought against anyone who interfered in your marriage, such as in-laws, parents, or even a former ex-spouse from a marriage prior to your current one.
In order to have a valid claim for a heart balm action, your marriage and circumstances need to show the following elements through evidence in court:
- You and your spouse had a loving marriage;
- The third-party knew about your marriage, and interfered anyway;
- The malicious actions of that third party were the primary cause which resulted in the marriage ending;
- You were harmed by the acts of the third party.
These suits are often filed with criminal conversation and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.
Divorce is hard, no matter the circumstances
Dealing with infidelity, meddling persons, and divorce is all very stressful. The best thing to do is to speak with your attorney and see if you have a strong enough case to move forward. A heart balm action is an entirely different court case from your divorce, so child custody or property division is handled separately.