By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
October 4, 2019
A man from Pitt County, Kevin Howard, has won a $750,000 judgment in court against his wife’s lover. Howard’s claim was based on “alienation of affection” and “criminal conversation” laws that have remained on North Carolina’s books since the 18th century.
Under “alienation of affection,” a husband or wife can sue a third party who intentionally and maliciously steals away the affections of their spouse, resulting in the break-up of the marriage. Under “criminal conversation,” the husband or wife can sue the third party for committing adultery with their spouse.
Five other states, like North Carolina, still hold the “alienation of affection” law as sacred. They are Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah.
Howard’s attorney, Cindy Mills, told CNN that she had argued no less than 30 cases of “alienation of affection” during her more than 30-year career in law. “It’s very prevalent,” she said. She has five similar cases open now.
Howard told WITN News in Greenville that the failure of his marriage, something which he considered sacred, was almost emotionally unbearable for him. “It was like someone calling you and telling you that a family member had tragically died,” he told WITN.
CNN reports that Howard was married for 12 years, and after his wife approached him about legally separating, they started attending marriage counseling. But Howard thought something was off, which precipitated him hiring a Private Investigator who uncovered his wife was having an affair with a co-worker. Howard told CNN that the man was someone he and his wife ate dinner with several times. “We spent time together…I thought this was a friend,” said Howard.
Court records show the man was responsible for alienating Howard from his wife, and a judge ruled in Howard’s favor, granting him a considerable payout.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said that attempts to abolish the two laws had been tried in the General Assembly going back as far as 2001.
“I remember the first time I learned about this law was when a suit was heard in Alamance County in 2001. Dorothy Hutelmyer sued Margie ‘Lynne’ Cox for committing adultery with her spouse, and stealing the affection of her husband, Joseph,” said Rev. Creech. “The case made national headlines when a jury ordered the adulteress to pay $1 million for breaking up her seventeen-year-old marriage.”
Creech continued, “At that time there was a lot of hoopla about the judgment by those who thought it unfair, and former Rep. Joe Hackney (D-Orange) sponsored legislation to repeal the torts. But the Christian Action League vigorously fought the proposed legislation. It passed the House, but it didn’t get anywhere in the Senate. The Christian Action League still believes such laws are important for protecting the sanctity of marriage.”
Howard would likely agree with those sentiments. He told WITN, “I filed the case, because I feel it’s very important that people understand that the sanctity of marriage is important especially in this day and age when people question everyone’s morals, people question everyone’s liability of a person, and function of the law.”
In August of last year, media reports covered a judge ordering Francisco Huizar III to pay $8.8 million to Keith King. Huizar had been having an affair with King’s wife for 16 months.
King sued Huizar under North Carolina’s “alienation of affection” and “criminal conversation” laws. CNN reported at the time that “most of the money awarded consisted of punitive damages, solely meant to penalize the defendant. But about $2.2 million of it was compensatory, or tangible damages. King’s attorney, Joanne Foil, said that because of the affair and breakup of the marriage, King’s “company lost revenue and an employee – his wife.”
Some attorneys contend “alienation of affection,” and “criminal conversation” laws are antiquated, ineffective, and should be repealed. They argue that they were written at a time when wives were considered the property of their husbands, the judgments today are rarely collected, and the courts shouldn’t impose morality on society.
Rev. Creech, however, says that he takes serious issue with these claims.
“The abolition of these two laws would eliminate any recourse an aggrieved spouse, either man or woman, has against a third party who had sex with their husband or wife, which led to the break-up of the marriage. So this isn’t just about women,” said Rev. Creech. “The laws are not so much about the money either. They are about protecting the sacredness of the marriage bond. If someone stealthily, purposely, malevolently, mischievously, steals away your husband or bride, there ought to be some legal accountability. Without these laws, marriage, which is the nucleus of our society, is more vulnerable. Moreover, the law is always about what we value in society. So it’s always about somebody’s value system being imposed on all of us whether we like it or not.”
“Alienation of affection” and “criminal conversation” laws can’t heal broken hearts or bind the wounds of children from divorced parents, but they do work as deterrents to home wrecking.
When Lynne Cox was asked in a “Dateline” television news interview, if she would have done anything differently, Cox stated that she would have waited until Joseph was divorced before dating him.
“Would be adulterers should beware,” said Rev. Creech. “In North Carolina, having an affair that leads to the break-up of someone’s marriage could cost you in a big way. And that’s how it should be.”