With the recent 9 million dollar verdict in Guilford County, alienation of affection and criminal conversation claims have once again gained media attention. What most people do not know is that the law regarding these claims has recently changed.
As background, North Carolina is one of only five states that still strongly protects these heart balm claims. Forty-two states refuse to even recognize this kind of lawsuit. So, North Carolina, as with some other laws, has retained these kinds of lawsuits long after the rest of country has outlawed them.
However, in an effort to place some kinds of limits on these claims, North Carolina has recently revised its heart balm law. Three significant revisions have been made, and each has the effect of limiting heart balm claims in some way. An important detail is that these changes only apply to heart balm lawsuits based on wrongful acts that occurred on or after October 1, 2009.
The three recent changes are as follows:
1. Post-physical separation acts: Acts that occur after the husband and wife physically separate cannot be the basis for a heart balm claim. The law was not clear on this issue before. So, the legislature passed this provision to allow separated spouses to have romantic relationships after physical separation without fear of a heart balm lawsuit against their new love interest.
2. 3 year statute of limitations: Heart balm cases must now be filed within 3 years of the last act that gives rise to the lawsuit. Previously, the law was unclear and some cases could be arguably filed 10 years after the wrongful acts. This law was changed to clarify the deadline for filing these cases.
3. Heart balm claims against companies: North Carolina law now expressly forbids heart balm lawsuits against companies; all of these lawsuits must be brought against actual people. This seems like a weird law. But, heart balm suits have been filed against not only the new lover, but their employer as well! The theory is that if the employer knew about the affair, or in some way helped it happen, then the employer could be liable for the damages in the heart balm claim. With the enactment of this law, employers cannot be held liable for any acts that occurred after October 1, 2009.
The real significance of these changes is that North Carolina is clearly trying to limit these kinds of actions. It may or may not be the beginning of the end for these cases. But, it certainly is a step in that direction.