Can you be sued for "alienation of affection" in America? Yep

The Beatles once sang, “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.” That may be true, but money may be able to cover a repair bill for a broken heart. If someone comes along and engages your spouse in an affair, wrecking and eventually ending your marriage, can you sue them over a broken heart? Color me surprised, but it turns out you can. And this form of heart surgery doesn’t come cheap either. A man in Georgia was recently awarded $8.8M dollars to be paid (assuming he can ever collect) by the man who stole away his wife. (Washington Post)

Keith King does not count himself a victor, even after a judge in North Carolina ordered another man to pay him $8.8 million for wrecking his marriage.

In King’s words, spoken to “Inside Edition,” “There isn’t a dollar amount that you can put on it for what I think my family’s worth.”

But because of precepts borrowed from English common law, there actually is a dollar amount — $2.2 million in compensatory damages and $6.6 million in punitive damages, according to a decision last week by a Superior Court judge in Durham, N.C. The judge found that an affair lasting more than a year harmed King through criminal conversation, meaning adultery, and alienation of affection, meaning responsibility for marital fracture, typically through enticement.

That sounds rather unbelievable to me but apparently, it’s true. Keith King’s marriage was supposedly going along well until another man showed up and used “enticement” to fracture his marriage, leading to an “alienation of affection.” And that payday is bigger than what he would have gotten if the guy had literally run him down with his truck.

So is this a good thing? Speaking as a person of the married persuasion and having had an ugly end to a relationship before meeting the love of my life, I can see how many of us might be cheering the decision. There’s little in this world aside from the death of a loved one which can bring on such grief, angst and anger as finding out that your spouse has been unfaithful. This is particularly true if you thought things were going great and had no idea it was going on but she was sneaking around on you and All Her Friends Knew It and FOR GOD’S SAKE, MARGARET HE WAS A MEMBER OF MY DART TEAM HOW COULD YOU EVEN…

… but I digress.

I have no intention of blaming the victim here. If all the facts of the case are as presented, Mr. King is the victim and his wife was an unrepentant adulteress. The guy who “lured” her away isn’t winning any Good Samaritan awards either. But is he guilty of something which should bring that sort of a fine in a court of law? Unless he’s a billionaire, that settlement has just wrecked his life in a very different way than he wrecked Keith King’s future.

Besides, it takes two to tango. He may have become smitten with Keith’s wife and made an inappropriate proposition, but she could have said no. After all, she’s the one who took the vows, not her boyfriend. Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for Keith to sue his ex-wife? Or, at a minimum, split the fine between the two of them?

While this story seems morally right, it simply feels logically wrong. Adultery is barely a crime anymore in most places, and theft generally has to involve stealing something with a measurable monetary value. What’s the cash value of a marriage, particularly a union which was apparently weak enough to be shattered when a good looking man came along? At least in Georgia the answer seems to be $8.8M.

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