By Tami Fitzgerald
Christian Action League
For the past several years, the Family Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association has sought to abolish the laws that give civil remedies to spouses whose husbands or wives have committed adultery during the marriage. These laws give the wronged spouse the right to hold a third party liable for criminal conversation (adultery—sexual intercourse with his/her spouse) and alienation of affection (alienation of spousal love caused by the malicious conduct of the third party). They are the only civil remedies for adultery and interference in marital love. Of course, there are criminal statutes making adultery a crime, but prosecutors rarely file criminal charges for adultery these days.
Previous attempts to abolish these civil remedies for adultery have failed, but the North Carolina Bar Association teamed up with Rep. Melanie Goodwin (D-Montgomery) to sponsor a new bill this year that makes some modifications to the law without abolishing it. House Bill 1110-Clarify/Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation-makes three changes in the existing law:
(1) Limits acts giving rise to a cause of action for alienation of affection or criminal conversation to those acts occurring before separation of the couple;
(2) Sets the statute of limitations for such actions at three years from the last act of the defendant giving rise to the cause of action; and
(3) Limits causes of action for alienation of affection or criminal conversation to “natural persons only.” By implication, this prohibits such actions against corporations.
HB 1110 was passed by the House on May 14th, and has moved to the Senate where it was heard in the Senate Judiciary-I Committee on Thursday, July 2, 2009. Reverend Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, addressed the committee about the need to allow enough time for an estranged couple to talk, to seek counsel, and to reconcile without the interference of an adulterous relationship or one that alienates the affections of one spouse. He urged the Committee to extend the period within which acts giving rise to a cause of action for alienation of affection or criminal conversation can be filed so as “to protect marriage…our most valued community treasure.” (Read Rev. Creech’s speech here)
Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Montgomery) proposed an amendment to make such an extension, so the aggrieved spouse can file suit for any act giving rise to a cause of action for alienation of affection or criminal conversation that occurs within 120 days after separation. Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) suggested defining the term “separation” in the statute to be “the date at which spouses cease living together with the intent to remain separate and apart.” No action was taken on the bill, because the Committee needed time to draft the proposed amendments. The bill will presumably be rescheduled in the Senate Judiciary-I Committee on Tuesday, July 7th.
North Carolina is only one of eight states in the country—Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Dakota and Utah—which still recognize both criminal conversation and alienation of affection. The laws are evidence of the State’s public policy which encourages and values marriage.
The civil remedies of criminal conversation and alienation of affection are the only effective remedies for a spouse wronged by adultery, since criminal prosecutions for adultery are virtually non-existent. Further, civil contracts in business are upheld by legal sanctions, including a prohibition to interfere with business contracts. Marriage should enjoy the same kinds of legal sanctions for interference with the marriage vows. These civil remedies are used frequently in North Carolina (more than 200 alienation actions are filed in an average year) and are a deterrent to extramarital affairs. These are appropriate remedies for behavior that has long been disfavored and is illegal in North Carolina—adultery.
Read Related Story: Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation Law Weakened by House Panel